13th Sunday A: Radicality of Discipleship

Gospel reading: Matthew 10:37-42

Michel de Verteuil
General comments
According to the liturgical practice of our Church, when a teaching of Jesus is continued over several weeks, each Sunday’s reading begins with a reminder of the context. Today’s passage therefore begins, “Jesus instructed the twelve as follows”, or “Jesus said to his apostles”. This practice reminds us that in our Catholic tradition we always read the bible “historically” – with the awareness that each book, indeed each passage, was composed in a certain historical context and is also to be read in a historical context.

 Applying this principle to today’s passage, we read it not as a list of commands (far less of threats) but as a “story” – this is what Jesus said when he sent his disciples into their world. It is a living story so that in our meditation we ask the question, who is the Jesus who said (is saying) these things – to us? to the modern world? The passage also issues a challenge to us as individuals and as communities (as the Church) – this is how Jesus wants us to be present in the world.
The passage is in two sections, very different both in content and in atmosphere:
Verses 37 to 39 speak of the demands Jesus makes on people and wishes his followers to make on their contemporaries. We remember with gratitude the people who have made such demands on us, lifting us out of mediocrity and giving us something for which we are willing to risk everything we hold dear. Martin Luther King once said, “People who haven’t discovered something they will die for, are not fit to live.”
Each verse ends with “is not worthy of me”. This reminds us that as followers of Jesus we have the option of watering down his teaching in such a way that it is no longer “worthy” of him.
 “Prefer” in verse 37 is biblical language, and we must be careful to interpret it correctly. The bible takes for granted that hurting “father or mother”, “son or daughter” causes very deep pain; we must read this verse then as part of the “cross” which Jesus’ followers must “take up” (verse 38), and of “losing one’s life” (verse 39).
  “Follow in my footsteps” in verse 38 shows that Jesus only imposes on others what he has imposed on himself.
 Verses 37 and 38 can give the impression of Jesus’ followers as a surly lot, suffering from “victim syndrome”; verse 39 corrects such wrong interpretations – the overall effect of the following of Jesus is positive, it calls for self-sacrifice as a way to fuller life.
 The verse presents two sharply contrasting possibilities; we stay with each one in turn, getting a feeling for both and letting them play off each other like contrasting colours in a painting.
– On the one hand, there is complacency  – “I can relax now that I have found what I was looking for”. We feel Jesus’ sadness at mediocrity where there was immense potential.
 – On the other hand we feel his exhilaration at people who have taken risks (lost life) and discovered new vitality (found life).
Verses 40 to 42 speak of the presence of Jesus in his community after he has left them. Many leaders want their followers to be always referring back to them; Jesus is different, he sends his followers out so selflessly and with so much trust that they feel his presence long after they have gone on their own.
In accord with the original context of the passage, we focus on ourselves sent into the world by Jesus with our different vocations – as parents, teachers, community leaders, Church ministers etc.
Like all caring leaders Jesus is concerned that his missionaries should be “welcomed”, a powerful image we need to spend time on. We are “welcomed” when we are invited to feel at home with others while at the same time being allowed to remain true to ourselves – a rare and very precious experience.
In verse 40 Jesus tells the twelve, “Don’t be afraid, I am so completely with you that when people welcome you they welcome me”. The secret of non-possessiveness is the sense of “being sent” by a higher power; we find it easier to entrust our authority to others when we remember that it is not “ours” but entrusted to us by God.
In verse 41, we need not make a distinction between “prophet” and “holy man”; they are different names for great people sent by God to a community. The verse brings out that Jesus’ “missionaries” (in the widest sense as explained above) and those who welcome them become one. Missionaries are not “givers of objects” (not even “spiritual objects”); they have had a deep experience and invite others to share in it. We remember times when we experienced that those who welcomed us shared in our blessedness.
In our preaching we tend to stress that God is “offended” by our sins. The God whom Jesus reveals in verse 42 is not concerned about himself. Like a good parent, teacher or church minister, his concern is for the “little ones” he has formed and sent into the world. He fusses over them (note “certainly”) and rewards generously anyone who looks after them. We think of parents who declare themselves  “eternally grateful” to a teacher for befriending their children.
The designation “little ones” is very significant. Jesus does not want his missionaries to be overly concerned at being treated with honour or respect. In his eyes, they are (and must see themselves as) “little ones”. As many have noted, one of the root causes of many of the recent clerical scandals is that we church leaders have encouraged the culture of elitism, forgetting that we were sent by the Lord as “little ones” grateful for “as much as a cup of cold water”.
We think too of the church’s call to be a humble presence (a little one) in non-Western or non-Christian cultures.
“Only those are great whose faith lifts them higher than themselves and who give themselves entirely to this faith.”  …Yves Congar
Lord, we remember with deep gratitude those moments of grace when we had an experience which changed all our values and gave a new direction to our lives: 
– we met someone whom we loved more than anyone else in the world; 
– a new leader gave our community a new vision for itself; 
– we read a book which changed our lives;
– a bible passage touched us deeply.
The experience affected us so much that we looked with new eyes
at those who up to then were very dear to us, father or mother, son or daughter,
we were ready to give up things that up to then were very precious to us. 
It was the only attitude  worthy of this new call we had received.
Looking back on that moment we realise that had we not made the choice ,
we would have lost ourselves; because we made it we found ourselves.
Lord, your will is that the message of Jesus should bring life
to societies torn apart by racial and ethnic hatred.
Forgive us that we have watered down the message
allowing it to be second to father and mother, son and daughter.
Followers of Jesus are concerned  to protect their ethnic and class identity
but are in fact losing it, whereas if they lost it for your sake they would find it.
Lord, we pray for the leaders of our country.
Don’t let them impose burdens on others which they have not borne themselves.
Teach them that, like Jesus, they must first take up their cross,
and only then invite others to follow in their footsteps.
Lord, we remember today those who are taking an important new step in their lives:
– getting married or becoming parents; 
– taking public office; 
– committing themselves to a new form of service.
Give them the courage to risk losing themselves, 
for it is only then that they will find their true selves.
Lord, we thank you that in many countries of the world your Church has made an option for the poor,
– preferring them to father and mother, son and daughter
 – risking everything for the sake of the gospel.
It has lost many of its privileges but has found life as the Church of Jesus.
 “When I walk  with Jesus, he always leads me to the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost so that I may open my heart to them.” …Jean Vanier.
Lord, many leaders today, even in the Church,
are concerned only for the important members of the community,
for their friends or for those who can help them.
We thank you for Jesus and all like him, 
men and women who feel deeply for the little ones in the community,
and are grateful to those who give as much as a cup of cold water to them.
“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you,
the better you will listen to what is sounding outside.” 
…Dag Hammarskjold
Lord, we thank you for the holy men and women,
the prophets you send into our lives.
How true it is that when we welcome them we share in their greatness.
Lord, we thank you for sending us into the world as parents,
community leaders, ministers in your church.
Don’t let us be possessive of those you entrust to our care.
Help us like Jesus, to have a sense that you sent us,
so that when we have done all we have to do,
we can let ourselves live in those we have formed,
trusting that whoever welcomes them welcomes us
and in welcoming us welcomes you who sent us.
Lord, forgive us that the leaders of your church
have come to others with a sense of superiority.
We thank you for the times that life teaches them
that you have sent them as little  ones
who are grateful for as much as a cup of cold water to slake their thirst.
Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
Welcome! Welcome to this assembly of the baptised who have gathered to give thanks to our Father in heaven. ‘Welcome’: it is such a simple word, and one we use freely and often with little thought. We welcome friends and guests to our homes; from time to time we welcome visitors; we talk about giving and receiving warm welcomes; and we sometimes have little plaques near our front door with ‘Welcome’ written on them or even have it bound into the weave of the front door mat.
Because we have been baptised into Jesus the Christ, we have been welcomed by the Father as his daughters and sons. Because we are disciples we are welcomed now to the Lord’s table. Because we are followers of the Way we look forward to being welcomed to the banquet of heaven. We can thank the Father that we are a welcomed people.
But do we always welcome the Christ in his teachings in our lives? Do we always welcome the Christ in the stranger? Do we always welcome the Christ in the poor? Do we always welcome the Christ in those in need in our society?

Homily notes
1. It is always worth giving time to a few unpalatable facts! Here is one: religions are forces for conservatism in societies – in effect changes (such as the arrival of new people) tend to be seen as frightening and sources of danger. Here is another: religions tend to build cohesion between groups that engage in ritual together – in effect they establish a status quo that becomes increasingly rigid and adverse to change (so adding hymns that make the assembly more friendly to parents with young children will be a war of attrition [‘attrition” in its military rather than its theological sense!]). Here is a third: most religious groups tend to have high perceptions of their own identity and so, in effect, become either excluding of members drifting in from outside or positively exclusive. In effect, you might come to the group as a visitor, but either you would always feel on the periphery as a ‘blow in’ or you would get a set of signals that this was not really your kind of place.
2. This might appear to be an interesting piece of religious anthropology, but it certainly would not apply to our community: surely it was only last week that we all shook hands at coffee with the two foreigners that bought the house round the corner that old Mrs Smith lived in! Alas, there is a fourth fact: we all drift down this route of being unwelcoming and must positively choose to act differently if we are to answer the Lord’s call to be welcoming. We want to be like this precisely because we have been so warmly welcomed by the may be two housing estates: one detached properties with gardens, the other high-density local authority housing. Are they represented pro rata in the groups in the church? Does the community only reflect the liturgical needs of the middle-aged or the young families? Does the community show its acceptance of immigrants from other cultures in those who read or assist with the sharing of the Eucharist? These are hard questions for any community because it tests ‘welcoming’ by practice. And, once someone says in reply: ‘But they don’t want to be involved anyway!’ you can be certain the community has a problem because they are already thinking of brothers and sisters in Christ in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
3. Every congregation, and every group within it, must audit its practice: is this group inclusive and including; is this group exclusive or excluding; are there subtle signals being sent out that there are ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’; are there ways of sending out subtle signals that we are all poor and needy of the Lord’s mercy and glad to be welcomed to the Lord’s table?
4. If the perfect expression of our existence as the church ~ our gathering for the Eucharist – is an event of true welcome, then those attitudes of welcome and social concern will begin to embed themselves in the community’s discipleship as a whole. And the converse also hold true: if a community cannot be genuinely welcoming in its liturgy, then it is most unlikely that it will be concerned with the poor, the needy, or the stranger.

John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
Rocketing divorce rates and the now widespread practice of cohabitation in preference to marriage are two examples among numerous of the difficulty, especially in western societies, of people making lasting commitments to one another. Even many couples who claim to love each other are reluctant to make vows that bind them for life.
This apparent inability to make definitive commitments has also affected the priesthood and religious life. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), many priests and religious abandoned their commitment in their droves. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear the suggestion that priesthood and religious life should only be a temporary arrangement, that young people might commit to these lifestyles for a specified period of time and then be free to do other things.
Jesus was very clear about the commitment that he expects from his disciples: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:37-38). Christians are called to put Christ first. Total commitment, nothing less, is required.
In the scale of relationships, then, Christ is unquestionably first. Not even the closest of family relationships is more important than our relationship with Christ. Nothing less than total commitment is acceptable. The same applies in the case of suffering. Whatever sufferings come our way, whether physical illness or mental anguish or spiritual distress, we accept them for the love of Christ.
To underline the importance of nourishing this total commitment of his followers, Jesus promised rewards to those who give even a drink of water to those in need. It is incumbent on us, then, to re-examine our Christian commitment.
For example, how do we understand the obligation to attend Sunday Mass? For some of us, it may be based on a sort of turgid duty that arises from fear or guilt. For others, it may be due to an unreflected lifelong habit. Or it may be a result of our love of God and the desire to offer praise and worship in the context of a believing community.
If our religious observance is to be transformed into a duty of love, then we need to reflect carefully on the words of Jesus that no human being, nothing on the face of the earth, should be more important to us than him. Only when we appreciate the pre-eminence of Jesus in our lives, will everything else fall into its correct perspective.
For meditation
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. (Mt 10:40)
Fr Donal Neary, S.J
The simple cup of water

The examples are stark in the gospel today: about not preferring mother and father to Jesus; about how, in our care for others, we care for Jesus, and how, in our neglect of others, we neglect him. We need to go beyond the practical example to finding out what is central in our lives and how we see God as central. When God is central, our love can be in the smallest of services to people, like ‘the cup of cold water’.
Jesus is not central outside our humanity, and our human relationships. In the real needs of ordinary people we meet his needs. We give the ‘cup of cold water’ to the person who needs it, not just to Jesus. It’s like many stories in the gospel of Jesus helping those in real need. This is the central point of faith.
We help in simple ways. This is what Pope Francis refers to in his encouragement of simple love, ‘like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love’ (September 2015).
From the Connections:

Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ missionary discourses, in which Jesus speaks of the sacrifice demanded of his disciples and the suffering they will endure for their faith.  In today’s pericope, Jesus clearly is not attacking family life; he is warning his disciples of the conflict and misunderstanding they will experience for their proclaiming the word.  To be an authentic disciple of Jesus means embracing the suffering, humility, pain and selflessness of the cross; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means taking on the often unpopular role of prophet for the sake of the kingdom; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means welcoming and supporting other disciples who do the work of the Gospel.

God calls every one of us to the work of the prophet: to proclaim his presence among his people.  Some are called to be witnesses of God's justice in the midst of profound evil and hatred; others are called to be witnesses of his hope and grace to those in pain and anguish; and many share in the work of the prophet/witness by enabling others to be effective witnesses and ministers of God’s love.  The gift of faith opens our spirits to realize and accept our call to be witnesses of God's love borne on the cross and prophets of the hope of his Son's resurrection.
The most difficult part of imitating Jesus is the cross and what it stands for: unconditional forgiveness, the totally emptying of ourselves of our wants and needs for the sake of another, the spurning of safety and popular convention to do what is right and just.
To “receive the prophet’s reward” is to seek out every opportunity, to use every talent with which we have been blessed, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life we touch.
Authentically committed disciples of Jesus possess the vision of faith and determination of hope to use anything — from a cup of cold water to a sign to protect the most helpless of creatures — to make God’s reign of compassion and peace a reality in our time and place.
Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s liturgy centres on the theme of hospitality. Hospitality, as a virtue, is still practiced. We still visit people and most people make us feel welcome into their homes. In the first reading we see Elisha is welcomed by an elderly woman in Shunem, who urges him to eat some food. He is touched by the welcome hospitality and by the fact that whenever he passes that way he is offered a meal. Seeing that he is a regular visitor, the couple decide to build a small room so Elisha can rest comfortably. Touched by their generosity he decides to reward them. Finding out that they are childless, he promises them the gift of a son as God’s blessing on them.

As Gandhi stepped aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train was moving. To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. Asked by a fellow passenger why he did so, Gandhi smiled. “The poor fellow who finds the shoe lying on the track,” he replied, “will now have a pair he can use.”
Author unknown

In today’s gospel Jesus instructs his disciples about how they have to be hospitable and welcoming even though they themselves may not be welcomed and may sometimes be rejected as they preach the good news. They will also experience the warm hospitality of some who will welcome them. He also reminds them that even a small gesture of offering a glass of water given in hospitality will be rewarded. The practice of receiving a guest or a stranger was common to many social groups at that time. It was a sacred duty practiced by many. The guest was treated with respect and honour and was provided with shelter. A significant feature of hospitality was Israel’s deep sense of God as its host. Israel treasured its identity as a pilgrim people. They remembered that their home belonged to God and that they like their ancestors remained pilgrims and passing guests in God’s house.

Modern Samaritan
A salesman had had a busy week and was returning to his home town. He stopped his car for a break at a roadside coffee shop. As he sat drinking his coffee he heard a girl quietly crying in the next booth. He didn't want to get involved but he was moved by her obvious distress. The girl was about 17, the same age as his daughter. Against his better judgement he introduced himself and asked if he could help. The girl, whose name was Lisa, told him that she was from a broken home and had got into bad company. She was into drugs and had turned to prostitution to pay for them. Moved as he was, he just bought the girl a meal and continued his journey. Later that evening he shared his experience with his family. His family suggested that he return to that town and try to find Lisa again and offer to help. He eventually located her. He discovered that she was but one of a number of girls in that town in similar circumstances who were being exploited by the pimps and drug pushers. He was so moved by Lisa's plight that he took her home to his family, and that started a ministry to try and get those girls off the streets. Out of that simple beginning over a cup of coffee that man now has three full-time workers and has seen scores of girls come off the streets and get their lives back together. The ministry became so successful that it earned the man a Presidential citation.
Ron Clark

Two Brothers
Two brothers worked together on the family farm. One was married and had a large family. The other was single. At the day’s end, the brothers shared everything equally, produce and profit. Then one day the single brother said to himself. “It’s not right that we should share equally the produce and the profit. I am alone and my needs are simple.” So each night he took a sack of grain from his bin and crept across the field between their houses dumping it into his brother’s bin. Meanwhile the married brother said to himself. “It is not right that we should share the profit and the produce equally. After all I am married and have my wife and children to look after me in years to come. My brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.” So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it into his single brother’s bin. Both men were puzzled for years because their supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other. Slowly it dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.
Author Unknown from “More Sower Seeds by Brian Cavenaugh”

Finding God in my neighbor
One American family was travelling in their motor home through Alaska, when the axle broke and they were stranded in the middle of nowhere. So the father left the family in their motor home and began to walk in search of help. To his good luck, he came upon an isolated farmhouse. He knocked on the door and a very friendly farmer responded. When he learned of the man’s distress, the farmer just patted him on the shoulder and said he could help him. Without wasting a minute he got into his tractor, drove out and towed the motor house to his yard. And then, in a very short time, he used his welder and fixed the problem. The American family were extremely relieved and grateful. Taking out his wallet the father of the family offered to pay, but the farmer would have none of it. “It was my pleasure” was all he said. “As you can see, I live in isolation and often do not see anybody for weeks and even months. You have given me the pleasure of your company. That is more than adequate compensation.” The American family were greatly impressed. It certainly enhanced their belief in the essential goodness of human beings.
James Valladares in ‘Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life’

A little girl whose parents had died lived with her grandmother and slept in an upstairs bedroom. One night there was a fire in the house and the grandmother perished while trying to rescue the child. The fire spread quickly, the neighbours called the fire department, and then stood helplessly by unable to enter the house. The girl appeared at an upstairs window crying for help. Suddenly, a man appeared with a ladder, put it against the side of the house and disappeared inside. When he reappeared, he had the little girl in his arms. He delivered the child into the waiting arms below, and then disappeared into the night. As the child had no known relatives, weeks later a meeting was held to determine who would take the child into their home and bring her up. A teacher said she would like to raise the child. She pointed out that she could ensure a good education. A farmer offered her an upbringing on his farm. Others spoke, giving their reasons why it was to the child’s advantage to live with them. Finally, the town’s richest resident rose and said, “I can give this child all the advantages that you have mentioned here, plus money and everything that money can buy.” Throughout all this the child remained silent, her eyes on the floor. “Does anyone else want to speak?” asked the meeting chairman. A man came forward from the back of the hall. His gait was slow and he seemed in pain. When he got to the front of the room he stood directly before the little child and held out his arms. The crowd gasped. His hands and arms were terribly scarred. The child cried out, “This is the man that rescued me!” With a leap, she threw her arms around the man’s neck, holding on for dear life, just as she had that fateful night. She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed for a few moments. Then she looked up and smiled at him. "This meeting is adjourned" said the chairman.
Author unknown

Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) “Paid in full for one glass of milk.” The special joy of nature-loving boy Howard Kelly was hiking great distances and studying animals in the wild. On a walking trip, up through Northern Pennsylvania one spring, young Kelly stopped by a small farmhouse for a drink of cool spring water. A little girl answered his knock at the door, and instead of water, she brought him a glass of fresh milk. He thanked her profusely and went on his way. After years of medical studies, he became Dr. Kelly. Dr. Howard Kelly (1858-1943) was a distinguished physician who was one of the four founding doctors of Johns Hopkins, the first medical research university in the U.S. and, arguably, one of the finest hospitals anywhere. In 1895, he established in that school the department of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Over the course of his career, Doctor Kelly advanced the sciences of gynecology and surgery, both as a teacher and as a practitioner. Some years later, that same little girl from Northern Pennsylvania who had given him that glass of milk years ago, came to him for an operation. Just before she left for home, fearful of a huge bill, her bill was brought into the room and across its face was written in a bold hand, “Paid in full for one glass of milk.” That was Dr. Kelly’s style of showing gratitude and hospitality. While he charged the rich patients substantial fees, he provided his services free-of-charge to the less fortunate. By his conservative estimate, in 75% of his cases he neither sought nor received a fee. Today’s Scriptures challenge us to practice hospitality, seeing Christ in others. Adapted from See the Thai version of this story in YouTube. (

2) Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality. The eighth of November marks the 123rd anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Day (November 81897 – November 291980), the uncanonized saint of the homeless, an American journalist turned social activist, and a devout member of the Catholic Church. She was also an outspoken advocate for the poor.   For most of her life she agitated for better treatment of the disadvantaged.    The Catholic Worker Movement, which she started in May 1933, was a further extension of her interest in the poor.   With the help of her friend Peter Maurin she revived the idea of hospitality once fostered by monasteries.  All were welcome:  the poor, the downtrodden and losers.   She also started the first House of Hospitality where she could care for the poor. Dorothy and Peter suggested that every Catholic parish should have such a place of hospitality. Today there are nearly 175 of these Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality.  “Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor,” she used to say, “are atheists indeed.”  “If I have achieved anything in my life,” she once remarked, “it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs Christians on how they should be hospitable and generous. Fr. Tony (

3) Amish hospitality: Years ago, on a trip through the Amish country of Pennsylvania, I took the occasion to visit several of the shops. Many of them had signs of greeting hung on the door or in the window, which read, “Welcome! There are no strangers here — only friends we haven’t yet met.” In keeping with the sign was the warmth and kindness with which visitors were received and tended to. Unfortunately, hospitality such as this has become an uncommon, albeit pleasant surprise in today’s world. But it was not always so. In ancient times, hospitality was considered a sacred duty and in Scripture the patriarchs are cited as models of this virtue (Genesis 19:2; 24:17-33; 43:24). Recall, in particular, the visit of Yahweh to Abraham (Genesis 18:2-8); Abraham and Sarah’s generous welcome of their guests was rewarded with the promise of a son. As Xavier Leon-Dufour [Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Geoffrey Chapman, London: 1973)] explains, hospitality was to be valued as a work of mercy as well as a means of witnessing to the Faith. The visitor who traveled through and requested assistance (Proverbs 27:8, Sirach 29:21-27) was to be regarded as a living reminder of Israel’s former struggle as enslaved strangers in Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34). The stranger in need was also to remind Israel of its present status as a wandering pilgrim on earth (Psalm 39:13, Hebrews 11:13, 13:14). In today’s Gospel, Jesus impresses upon his disciples the importance of hospitality; those who labor for the sake of the Gospel are to be provided with a ready welcome by those to whom they minister. (Sanchez Files). — All this reminds us that the hospitality and generosity expected of us should be given here and now.

4) “It’s hard just to make it past the suffering part!” : St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), like some early Christian writers, notes, “suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, Jesus has got his head bending down — he wants to kiss you — and he has both hands open wide — he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation — this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.” But, Mother Teresa added, “I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. The lady answered, “Tell Jesus not to kiss me — to stop kissing me.” (Rev. Paul Andrew)

5.  Funny truths: You may sleep in the Church, but don’t snore. William Muehl, professor of preaching at Yale Divinity, spoke the following famous words to generations of seminarians: “Always remember that most of the people you have on a Sunday morning almost decided not to come, to stay in bed and sleep instead.” Hence, it is no wonder that a recent study in Great Britain found that 42 percent of regular Churchgoers fall asleep in Church. Ever feel like yawning in Church yourself? This’ll wake you up: “Yawning is of medical importance because it is symptomatic of pathology such as brain lesions and tumors, haemorrhage, motion sickness, chorea and encephalitis.” So says a 1987 University of Maryland report in the journal “Behavioral and Neural Biology.” So, while you’re yawning, be sure to tell yourself: “Don’t worry. There’s only a small chance it’s a tumor.”

6. Southern hospitality: Two women, a Yankee and a Southern Belle, are sitting next to each other on a plane. The Southern Belle turns to the Yankee and asks, “So, where y’all from?” The Yankee replies, “I am from a place where we do not end our sentences with a preposition.” Without missing a beat, the Southern Belle bats her lashes and asks, “So, where y’all from, Rude, lady?”

7. Overdose hospitality: A farmer, who went to a big city to see the sights, asked the hotel’s clerk about the time of meals. “Breakfast is served from 7 to 11, dinner from 12 to 3, and supper from 6 to 8,” explained the clerk. “Look here,” inquired the farmer in surprise, “when am I going to get time to see the city?”

23- Additional anecdotes:

1) Benedictine hospitality: Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of Benedictine spirituality, and it is based on seeing Christ in the guest, just as he is seen in the monks. In the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter LIII is dedicated to the reception of guests. Christ told his disciples that their service and disservice of others would also be directed at him, and this teaching is the foundation for the Benedictine attitude on hospitality: “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’ (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those ‘of the household of the faith’ (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers.” When a guest arrives, the Rule of St. Benedict prescribes that he be greeted by the superior and the brothers, and they all pray together before anything else. The Abbot attends to the guest and teaches the guest about “Divine law.” Hospitality also involves flexibility: in the Rule, it prescribes a separate kitchen with a couple of monks dedicated to meeting the guests’ needs, even when they are not following the monastery’s schedule for mealtimes and other activities. (E- Priest)

2) Saints and preachers who lived for others as Jesus did: John Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth century, was one of the most powerful preachers in Church history. Yet, he devoted more time and energy to the poor than to preaching. He established many Christian charities, hospices, and hospitals for the destitute. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian abbot and renowned monastic theologian and preacher, led many people to Christ. He also established a network of hostels, hospices, and hospitals that survive today. John Wycliffe, who translated the New Testament into English, led a grass-roots movement of lay-preachers and relief workers who ministered to the poor. General William Booth was a Methodist preacher when he started The Salvation Army. Dwight L. Moody, one of the best known of all the pastors in America established more than 150 street missions, soup kitchens, clinics, schools, and rescue outreaches. [John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Points (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991), p. 189.] — The Christian Faith is about giving. We only have to survey the ministry of Jesus to see that. There was nothing self-serving in anything Jesus ever did. He was truly the Man for others. And Jesus calls us to be men and women for others. At the very heart of our Faith is a spirit of giving.

3) Heroic suffering of the baseball player Kirk Gibson: Suffering and pain are integral to life’s experience but they need not humiliate, defeat, and destroy us! A Detroit News article some years ago carried the story of Kirk Gibson during his glory days with the Tigers. Few really knew the price of pain and agony paid by Gibson for that glory. According to the article, Kirk Gibson was a baseball player who knew how to live with pain. In 1980, he tore the cartilage in his wrist. Two years later, he had a sore left knee, a strained left calf muscle, and a severe left wrist sprain. In 1983, he was out for knee surgery, and in 1985 he required 17 stitches after getting hit in the mouth with a wild pitch. In addition, he bruised a hamstring muscle, injured his right heel, and suffered a sore left ankle. His worst injury involved severe ligament damage to his ankle in 1986, a year predicted to be his best. When asked about pain, Gibson was quoted as saying, “There are pluses and minuses in everything we do in life. But the pluses for my career, myself, and my family make it worth it. It’s the path I chose.” He accepted Jesus’ challenge in today’s Gospel, “Whoever does not take up his cross* and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

4) The agony and ecstasy of Michelangelo: A few of you perhaps have had the privilege of visiting Rome to view some of the world’s most splendid artistic productions in sculpture, on canvas, and in architecture. While there, perhaps you saw what is regarded by some as the most outstanding of all artistic expressions, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. What many people do not know is that he suffered beyond imagination while producing that unparalleled masterpiece. In Irving Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo’s agony is vividly described. For thirty days, he painted from dawn to darkness, completing the Sacrifice of Noah, the four large male figures surrounding the Ark and the Prophet Isaiah opposite. He returned home late each night to work on the scene of the Garden of Eden. For those thirty days, he slept in his clothes without even taking off his boots. When at the completion of that section, utterly spent, he asked a friend to pull his boots off for him, the skin came away with them. He grew dizzy from standing and painting with his head and shoulders thrown back, his neck arched so that he could peer straight upward, his arms aching in every joint from the vertical effort, his eyes blurred from the dripping paint, even though he had learned to paint through slits and to blink his eyes shut with each brush stroke, as he had learned to do against flying marble chips when sculpting. He did his painting on a platform on top of the scaffolding. He painted sitting down, his thighs drawn up tight against his stomach for balance until the padded bones of his legs became so bruised that he could no longer bear the agony. Then he would lie flat on his back, his knees in the air, until he could no longer endure that and would switch to another position. But no matter which way he leaned, crouched, lay, or knelt, on his feet, knees, or back, eventually there always came a painful strain. Yet, the greatness of the agony of his painting experience was more than matched by the greatness of the glory the marvelous production and end result gave him.– Today there are many people who want to live a godly life, who want to assist in seeing the Kingdom of God grow, but whenever effort, strain, or suffering is involved, they beg off. Jesus challenges them in today’s Gospel: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Fr. Tony (
5) Long living, hardy Bristlecone Pines: Some time ago a fascinating article appeared in Reader’s Digest, telling about a most unusual tree called the “Bristlecone Pine.” Growing in the western mountain regions, sometimes as high as two or more miles above sea level, these evergreens may live for thousands of years. The older specimens often have only one thin layer of bark on their trunks. Considering the habitat of these trees, rocky areas where the soil is poor and precipitation is slight, it seems almost incredible that they should live so long or even survive at all. The environmental “adversities,” however, actually contribute to their longevity. Cells that are produced as a result of these perverse conditions are densely arranged, and many resin canals are formed within the plant. Wood that is so structured continues to live for an extremely long period of time. What happens if these trees are grown in more welcoming circumstances? Says author Darwin Lambert in his article on the subject, “Bristlecone Pines in richer conditions grow faster, but die earlier and soon decay.” The harshness of their surroundings, then, is a vital factor in making them strong and sturdy. –How similar this is to the experience of the Christian who graciously accepts the hardships God allows to come into his life! In Hebrews 12:11 we read that such chastening produces “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (KJV) For those not rooted in Christ, suffering can be decimating.

6) “You one day gave a coin to Baron de Rothschild in the studio.” Baron De Rothschild was one of the richest men who ever lived. Legend has it that the Baron once posed before an artist as a beggar. While the artist, Ary Scheffer, was painting him, the financier sat before him in rags and tatters holding a tin cup. A friend of the artist entered, and the baron was so well-disguised that he was not recognized. Thinking he was really a beggar, the visitor dropped a coin into the cup. Ten years later, the man who gave the coin to Rothschild received a letter containing a bank order for 10,000 francs and the following message: “You one day gave a coin to Baron de Rothschild in the studio of Ary Scheffer. He has invested it and today sends you the capital which you entrusted to him, together with the compounded interest. A good action always brings good fortune. Signed, Baron de Rothschild.” [Bits and Pieces (February 4, 1993), p. 24.) — A simple act of kindness was bountifully rewarded. Now hear the words of our Lord: “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward.” Even a cup of cold water, says the Master, water given to one of His little ones, will be rewarded. Fr. Tony (

7) “I give while I’m still living!”: In a fable of the pig and the cow, the pig was lamenting to the cow one day how unpopular he was. “People are always talking about your gentleness and your kind eyes,” said the pig. “Sure, you give milk and cream, but I give more. I give bacon, ham, bristles. They even pickle my feet! Still, nobody likes me. Why?” The cow thought a minute and then replied, “Well, maybe it’s because I give while I’m still living, and I give milk which is meant for my child.” — Today’s Gospel reminds us that the hospitality and generosity expected of us should be offered here and now, and not just by way of something left for others in our Last Will and Testament. Fr. Tony (

8) Imitation of Christ or Presentation of Christ? In 1418 the first copy of what would become the most widely read volume on Christian spirituality appeared. The Imitation of Christ was first published anonymously but is now accepted as the work of the priest Thomas a Kempis. This book of devotions holds up Jesus’ teachings as the greatest counsel and truths one could ever find and urges all Christians to follow Jesus’ words at every juncture. The Imitation of Christ quickly became popular with the educated laity, then was accepted, read, and followed by such diverse groups as religious orders and monasteries, the Jesuits, and the Methodists. What a Kempis offered was “soul-steeping” in Christ’s words: inward meditation, outward devotion, committed contemplation. It’s a great book. I encourage you to read it. But in today’s Gospel text, Jesus is not interested in growing a new generation of mere “imitators” of the Christ.” In fact, Jesus’ words are startling. When disciples go out, those who welcome them are welcoming JESUS! Disciples are not “imitations.” Disciples are the real deal. Disciples are not “copies,” or a copy of a copy. Disciples are “originals.” Do you hear it? Jesus IS present, God IS present, when disciples come in the Name of the One Who has sent them. It’s not about “imitation.” It’s about implantation. No wonder “welcoming” is such a mandate! Instead of a Kempis’ “imitations” of Christ, better to envision Paul’s “Body of Christ.” Fr. Tony (

9) Pastoral ministry is a tough occupation: Did you hear about the farm boy who always wondered what would happen if he twisted the tail on the mule? One day he tried it. And now they say about him, he’s not as pretty as he used to be, but he’s a whole lot wiser. Ministry is not for cowards, the lazy, the easily discouraged, the thin-skinned, or those without endurance. It is a tough occupation! And it’s getting tougher! I love the cartoon that shows a man saying, “I don’t get America’s fascination with the television show Survivor. I’ve occupied an island of strenuous and dangerous activities with hostile cohorts with a chance of getting voted out. I’ve been a pastor for thirty years!” Today’s Gospel lesson gives us Jesus’ final words of instruction to his disciples, as he commissions them to undertake their mission and continues instructing them about their purpose. The text also urges us to see that our ministers get rest. Jesus talks about giving our prophets a break, time off for a cup of cool water. Let’s face it; a minister’s job is never done. There is always another sermon to write, a book to read, prayers to pray, a person to meet, a wrong to right, a meeting to attend. Even the pace of ministry is accelerating, thanks to e-mail, faxes, and cell phones. And a pastor, to survive, must learn to work under a load of unfinished work. Why, today’s pastor is like a man juggling a dozen balls well! The people of his congregation keep tossing him more balls until he’s up to 64! Then he drops them all and people walk away, shaking their heads in disbelief.

10) One unsung hero of the Bible is Onesiphorus. He is forever known as a minister to the minister, the one who kept the Apostle Paul on his feet. In 2 Timothy 1:15-18, Paul confided, “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus.” (II Tim 1:16-18). – 63001018-o — Just listen to the action verbs: He often gave me new heart. He was not ashamed of my chains. He promptly searched for me. He found me. May we be that sort of person to one another, and especially to our pastors! Fr. Tony (

11) “The Messiah is among you.” There is an old legend about the famous monastery which had fallen on very hard times. Its many buildings were once filled with young monks, and chapel resounded with the singing of the choir. But now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. Only a handful of old monks remained. On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a tiny hut. He came there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and bare his heart to the rabbi. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced. As he entered the hut, he saw in the middle of the room a wooden table with the Scriptures open. They sat there for a moment, in the presence of the Book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and broke down. After the tears and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.” The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you.” The Abbot stood in stunned silence. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without ever looking back. The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them that he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods, and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.” The monks were startled and thought to themselves: “What could it mean? Is brother John the Messiah? No, he’s too old and crotchety. Is brother Thomas? No, he’s too stubborn and set in his ways. Am I the Messiah? What could this possibly mean?” They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again. As time went by, though, something began to happen at the monastery. The monks began to treat one another with a reverence. They were gentle with one another. They lived with one another as brothers once again. Visitors found themselves deeply moved by the genuine caring and sharing that went on among them. Before long, people were again coming from great distances to be nourished by the prayer life of these monks. And young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community. Jesus said, “He who receives you receives me.” Hospitality…because in one another we see face of Christ. It is the first step in Christian Discipleship.

12) No trespassers allowed: Eleven times in the New Testament, Jesus either assumes or receives the hospitality of others for his daily care and lodging. How else do you think he survived? Furthermore, hospitality is assumed by Jesus in the sending forth of the apostles (“He who receives you, receives me,” Matthew 10:40). And the early Church would never have made it, had it not “practiced hospitality” as Paul mandated in Romans 12. Traveling missionaries stayed in homes … conducted worship in homes … served the Sacrament in homes … and took up collections for those engaged in the work of the Gospel in homes. In the first two centuries of the Church’s existence, any talk about “the house of God” literally meant a house … somebody’s house … where the people of God gathered and where the servants of God bunked (while passing through). “What happened to hospitality?” people cry. Well, what happened to hospitality was insecurity. When people no longer felt safe, they buttoned things up. They installed locks, buzzers, cameras, gatehouses and tall hedges … along with any number of things that controlled access. They became “selectively social,” given that you never knew who might be out there. But “security” was not the only issue that privatized hospitality, turning “welcome” into a highly selective verb. Privacy also entered in. People began to define their space more carefully … setting limits … establishing parameters. All of which is understandable. Maybe even laudable. But much of this runs counter to the spirit of Scripture whose mandate was especially appropriate to “nomadic life,” when people moved around a lot, but where public inns were a rarity.
13) And so the House of the Urchin was established: Shortly after World War II, the bombed-out city of Naples was filled with bands of young orphans and outcasts called scugnizzi. These scugnizzi lived on the streets, begging, pilfering, and sometimes assisting older criminals. These kids were tough, wily, and apparently unreachable. But 25-year-old Father Mario Borrelli wanted to try. He felt it was his responsibility to love in the way Christ has loved. So, each night right after his regular duties, he became a scugnizzi. Dressed in a ragged and filthy get-up, he started begging at the Naples railroad terminal. The other young toughs were impressed by his style, just the right mixture of humor and pathetic humility. When a gang leader swaggered up and demanded half his take, Mario beat him up. That really impressed the guys. This incognito priest slept on basement gratings covered with old newspapers, just like the others. Soon he was getting to know his new companions well as they talked around fires, heating up their scraps of food in old tin cans. He had something to express about the God who took on human flesh. And Mario discovered that all of them, even the most bitter and hardened, had a longing for home, affection, and security. After winter arrived, Mario informed the gang that he’d found a place for them to stay, the abandoned ruins of the church of Saint Gennaro. Slowly he transformed the structure into a home and started providing the boys with nourishing meals. One night, Mario appeared in full clerical robes. After his buddies stopped laughing, he explained that he was, in fact, a priest. By this time, the bonds he’d established were strong enough to make them stay; Mario had won their respect. And so the House of the Urchin was established, where young throwaways could find a home, hope, and the streetwise spiritual guidance of Mario Borrelli. [This story is a paraphrase of one recorded by Frederic Sondern Jr. in “Don Vesovio and the House of the Urchin,” Reader’s Digest Teenage Treasure, vol. 3 (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1957), pp. 28-32; found in Steven Mosley, Secrets of the Mustard Seed: Ten Life-Changing Promises From the New Testament.] — Christ is not asking most of us to make that drastic a change in our lifestyle, but he is asking us to be in mission. There is no other path to true happiness. We are to be in mission in our family, in our community and in our world and to have a consciousness that we are the people of God, bringing God’s light to the world. Fr. Tony (

14) “Help yourself to a cool drink.” Some years ago, Sam Foss, a writer and traveler, came to a little rustic house in England situated at the top of a hill. Nearby was a signpost that read: “Help yourself to a cool drink.” Not far away he found a spring of ice-cold water. Above the spring hung an old-fashioned gourd dipper, and on a bench nearby was a basket of summer apples and another sign inviting the passersby to help themselves. Curious about the people who showed such hospitality to strangers, Foss knocked at the door. An elderly couple answered, and Foss asked them about the well and the apples. They explained that they were childless. Their little plot of ground yielded a scant living, but because they had a well with an abundance of cold water, they just wanted to share it with anyone who happened by. “We’re too poor to give money to charity,” said the husband, “but we thought that in this way we could do something for the folks who pass our way.” [Donald E. and Vesta W. Mansell, Sure As The Dawn (Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1993).] — That’s the kind of hospitality Christ had in mind. It’s a simple thing, “a cup of cold water,” but rarer than you might think.

15) Shrinking and growing angel: The Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a shoemaker who was making his way home one night when he found a poor man shivering and poorly clad. Moved by pity, the shoemaker took the man home. His wife was not pleased. She complained about the cost of feeding another mouth. As she continued to complain, the stranger grew smaller and smaller, shriveled and wrinkled with every unkind word. But when she spoke kindly to the stranger and gave him food, he grew and became more beautiful. The reason was that the stranger was an angel from Heaven in human form and could live only in an atmosphere of kindness and love. [Fulton J. Sheen, The Power of Love (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964).] The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to be hospitable to “strangers for thereby, some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).

16) “Broken bread.” Salvation Army General Albert Osborn, in a favorite hymn [found in The Song Book of the Salvation Army, American Edition (Verona, NJ: National Headquarters, 1987), 512], wrote:
“My life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign,
That other souls, refreshed and fed
May share his life through mine.”
— Cook food. Serve love.

17) “My life must be Christ’s the seminarian sponsored by the cobbler. There was a poor lad in a country village who, after a great struggle, became a priest. His benefactor in his days of study in the seminary was the village cobbler. In due time, the new priest became an associate pastor in his benefactor’s parish.   On that day his benefactor, the cobbler, said to him, “It was always my desire to be a minister of the Gospel, but the circumstances of my life made it impossible. But you are achieving what was closed to me. And I want you to promise me one thing — I want you to let me make and cobble your shoes–for nothing — and I want you to wear them in the pulpit when you preach. Then I will feel that you are preaching the Gospel that I always wanted to preach standing in my shoes.” Beyond a doubt the cobbler was serving God as the preacher was, and his reward would one day be the same. (Adapted from Barclay). Today’s Gospel challenges us to help those in the ministry by using our God-given talents. The Church and Christ will also always need those in whose homes there is hospitality and, in whose hearts,, there is Christian love.   All service ranks the same with God. Fr. Tony (

18) Following Christ faithfully is tough, but it’s worth it! St Maximilian Kolbe is a particularly eloquent example of how our faith in Christ gives strength and meaning in the midst of this world’s sufferings. He was a Polish Franciscan arrested by the Gestapo during World War II because of his criticism of Nazism. Eventually, he was sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, where he was treated with extra brutality because he was a priest. We have all heard of the famous incident where a fellow prisoner, a man who was married with children, was condemned by the guards to execution, and St. Maximilian Kolbe offered himselfin the other prisoner’s place. His offer was accepted, and he died with other condemned prisoners in a starvation bunker. But even before that dramatic finish, he was already bringing Christ’s light into the darkness of the concentration camp. Here is how a fellow prisoner who survived the camp expressed the inspiring power of Fr Kolbe’s presence, even in that hellish place: “Each time I saw Father Kolbe in the courtyard I felt within myself an extraordinary effusion of his goodness. Although he wore the same ragged clothes as the rest of us, with the same tin can hanging from his belt, oneforgot this wretched exterior and was conscious only of the charm of his inspired countenance and of his radiant holiness.”
(E- Priest). Fr. Tony (

19) Cardinal Van Thuan’s Reward: Many of us have heard parts of the amazing story of the Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van ThuanJust six days after he was named coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon, South Vietnam fell to Communist controlled North Vietnam. Soon thereafter, the future Cardinal was arrested by the Communist authorities. For the next fourteen years, the Communists tried to break his Faith, moving him among re-education camps, prisons, and solitary confinement. When he was finally released, he was expelled from Vietnam and forbidden to return. So, he went to Rome, was welcomed by Pope St. John Paul II in 1991. He was made Vice-President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and named President in 1998. [F.X.. Nguyen Van Thuan The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2001), pp. ix-xi]. In the year 2000, the Great Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II asked Cardinal Van Thuan to preach the annual spiritual exercises – a retreat that lasts a full week – to the pope and the other cardinals who work in the Vatican. In 2002, Archbishop Nguyen Van Thuan was named a Cardinal, and had printed a book of his reflections, written day by day while he was in prison on scraps of paper smuggled out by a young boy who visited him daily. The short reflections were copied by his brothers and sisters and so circulated among his flock. The Cardinal died in exile in 2002, at the age of 74. (Ibid). After the Retreat of 2000, the Pope asked Cardinal Van Thuan to publish as a book the powerful reflections he had shared on the retreat. That’s how a modern-day spiritual classic was born: Testimony of Hope. In the introduction to that book, Cardinal Van Thuan shares with his readers a moving coincidence, a coincidence that was morethan a coincidence. It was a sign to Cardinal Van Thuan, just two years before his death, that his suffering had not been in vain. [“Today, at the conclusion of the spiritual exercises, I feel profoundly moved. Exactly twenty-four years ago on March 18, 1976, on the vigil of the Feast of St Joseph, I was taken by force from my residence in Cay Vong and put in solitary confinement in the prison of Phu Khanh. Twenty-four years ago, I never would have imagined that today, on exactly the same date, I would conclude preaching the spiritual exercises in the Vatican. Twenty-four years ago, when I celebrated Mass with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I never would have dreamed that today the Holy Father would offer me a gilded chalice. Twenty-four years ago, I never would have thought that today (the Feast of St Joseph, 2000) in Cay Vong – the very place where I lived under house arrest – my successor would consecrate the most beautiful church dedicated to St Joseph]. — Following Christ is not easy, but it’s worth it – no matter how bad things get, if we stay close to Christ, he stays close to us and gives meaning and fruitfulness to everything we suffer.
(E- Priest) Fr. Tony (

20) Alaskan hospitality: One American family was travelling in their motor home through Alaska, when the axle broke and they were stranded in the middle of nowhere. So the father left the family in their motor home and began to walk in search of help. To his good luck, he came upon an isolated farmhouse. He knocked on the door and a very friendly farmer responded. When he learned of the man’s distress, the farmer just patted him on the shoulder and said he could help him. Without wasting a minute, he got into his tractor, drove out and towed the motor house to his yard. And then, in a very short time, he used his welder and fixed the problem. The American family were extremely relieved and grateful. Taking out his wallet the father of the family offered to pay, but the farmer would have none of it. “It was my pleasure” was all he said. “As you can see, I live in isolation and often do not see anybody for weeks and even months. You have given me the pleasure of your company. That is more than adequate compensation.” The American family were greatly impressed. It certainly enhanced their belief in the essential goodness of human beings. (James Valladares in Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life; quoted by
Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (

21) “Oh, no!” Satan answered. “That’s my tool to wreck the Church.” There is an old legend about Satan one day having a yard sale. He thought he’d get rid of some of his old tools that were cluttering up the place. So there was gossip, slander, adultery, lying, greed, power-hunger, and more laid out on the tables. Interested buyers were crowding the tables, curious, handling the goods. One customer, however, strolled way back in the garage and found on a shelf a well-oiled and cared-for tool. He brought it out to Satan and inquired if it was for sale. “Oh, no!” Satan answered. “That’s my tool. Without it I couldn’t wreck the Church! It’s my secret weapon!” “But what is it?” the customer inquired. “It’s the tool of discouragement,” the devil said. — Indeed! In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is talking to the Church members about their attitude and deportment toward the prophets God sends among us as shepherds. He speaks frankly about acceptance and rejection, about kindness and trust. In short, he promises that in the minister’s success among us shall come our own reward as well as his.

22) Shell-Shock: A new malady was introduced to the human race through the First World War, a disorder medical services had never encountered before: shell-shock. Soldiers by the thousands “were being turned into zombies and freaks without suffering physical injuries of any kind,” walking about in trancelike states, shaking uncontrollably or freezing in odd postures, sometimes “unable to see or hear or speak.” All without experiencing physical harm. The reason was the incomprehensible firepower of the first modern war: earth-shattering artillery bombardments, flamethrowers, poison gas, machine gun fire that cut whole companies of charging men in half, etc. It was too much for the mind to endure, more than it was meant to handle. The result was shell shock. –Everyday life can likewise throw at us more than we can handle on our own, from financial stresses to griefs to broken relationships to fears for the future. [G. J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 (Bantam Books, 2006), pp. 393-7] — Our Heavenly Father gives us a cure in his Word to this spiritual shell-shock: “Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) — He will be our refuge through the battles of life. Fr. Tony (

23) The little prophet in the hospital cot: A young woman oncologist was a part of a group of doctors from a Boston hospital who went to Haiti in January 2010 to offer their help in the wake of the deadly earthquake.  She told of being totally overwhelmed by the situation in a very primitive tent hospital.  There was a seemingly endless barrage of impossible medical traumas, and they were without proper medicines or instruments.  At one point, she said, she became paralyzed by her helplessness and fear.  It was all too much.  Unable to function any longer, she began sobbing uncontrollably, burying her face in her hands. She was at the bedside of a little boy, whose leg had been amputated a few days earlier.  The little boy, about six or seven years old, saw her tears and her trembling and, with a smile, lifted his head from his pillow and encouraged her to move on to some other kids nearby whom he knew needed her attention more than he did. And remarkably she found she was able to do so.  For in that moment, the power of death and her overwhelming sense of horror and hopelessness were broken open.  She witnessed in that little boy the triumph of love over pain and fear. In his generosity of heart and compassion of spirit, this little boy is the kind of “prophet” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.  To receive the prophet’s reward is to seek out every opportunity, to use every gift God has given us, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life we touch.   The Gospel “cup of water” can be simple and ordinary, but every kindness we offer, when given out of generous compassion, is a prophetic act of God’s presence in our midst. (Quoted in Connections as reported in The Boston Globe). Fr. Tony (

Now I would like to stop the world for just one minute and ask you to think back. Think back with me to the first century. Think about those 50 years after Jesus' death and what it must been like for Jesus' disciples. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children into the ranks of the church. But what they had to suffer in order to accomplish this task is seldom discussed. We like the outcome of their discipleship but we don't want to hear the cost of discipleship. So for the record here is the cost: History tells us...
1. John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos.
2. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, hanged himself.
3. Peter was crucified; head downward, during the persecution of Nero.
4. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony.
5. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the
Temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
6. Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia.
7. James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
8. Thomas, the doubter, was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the East Indies.
9. Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis.
10. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows.
11. Simon died on a cross in Persia (what we now call Iran.)
12. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded.

What sacrifices! And I ask you why? Why did they choose to die this way? Why desert your father and mother, your wife and child, and your home? Why put up with the constant humiliation, and hunger, and persecution, and defeat town after town after town?

I'll tell you why, because, in the words of Apostle Paul, they were held captive by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is Paul's way of saying they were slaves to Christ...

It is every parent's dream. It goes like this . . . 

Your child is a guest at someone's home. Maybe a friend or a relative. When the meal is over, your child is the one who, without being told, spontaneously rises from the table, gathers their plate and even grabs another place setting, and takes them into the kitchen and put them either in the sink or in the dishwasher.  

What parent doesn't live with the eternal hope that our ten thousand nudges to our kids -- "pick that up" and "put that in the trash" and "did you forget where the laundry basket lives?" -- will finally "stick"?  

These reminders are not about household cleanliness. They are teaching a new generation of disciples about being thoughtful, compassionate, helpful, and loving followers of Jesus.  

Discipleship is, by definition, something that is "learned." The Greek word for disciples or "mathetes" means literally learner as well as follower. Jesus himself said, "Learn of me." (Matthew 11:29). Part of what it means to be a "disciple" is to teach a new generation of disciples.  

The whole sporting world is all about "World Cup" madness right now. In the USA we call it "soccer." In the rest of the world it is called "football." For those who love the sport, which seems to be all of the world with the singular exception the US, all eyes are on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as teams like Ghana and Germany, Nigeria and Argentina duke it out for a world championship.
But the biggest story out of Rio may not about a winner, but about a loser...

Shake It Off!

One of the greatest deterrents to our spiritual progress is our inability to shake off the things done to us by others. We can't get on with our lives because we are still angry and hurt by another's sin against us. We must find ways of redirecting our antagonism into something higher. We must channel our hurt, our anger, our despair, and our disappointment into something positive. Let go. Unpack the baggage. Stop wallowing in the quagmires of the past. Get your passport stamped and move on to higher ground, to your next destination.

Jesus exhorts his disciples in Matthew 10. If the people do not receive you, don't get stuck. Don't waste your life away crying crocodile tears; "shake" the dust from your feet and keep on moving. Don't get put in spiritual, emotional, and psychological jail by the things other people do to you. After it's done, don't give them the keys to your jail cell by living in solitary confinements of unhappiness and pain. Get out of jail, pass go, and collect two hundred!
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, Joy Songs, Trumpet Blasts, and Hallelujah Shouts, CSS Publishing Company

We Replace the Lamb

In that marvelous vision known as the "Peaceable Kingdom" (which we find in Isaiah 65), there is the image of the wolf and the lamb feeding together. Well, let me tell you a story about that. Back in the days of pre-perestroika Russia ... when hers was a name that made all of us tremble: the Russians brought an exhibit to the World's Fair that was entitled "World Peace." In it was a large cage. And in the cage were a little lamb and a Russian wolf ... feeding peaceably together. As an exhibit, it was most impressive. And as the fair unfolded, it was spectacularly attended. One day, however, somebody asked the curator the obvious question: "How in the world do you do it?" To which he replied: "Oh, it's really very simple. We replace the lamb every morning."

William A Ritter, Collected Sermons,

Simple Caring 

For several weeks, Mrs. Sherman's first-grade class had waited for the field trip to the observatory. Notices had been sent home with instructions about the bus, lunch, and times of departure and return. To the students, waiting for the field trip was like waiting for Christmas. 

Finally, the day arrived. We grabbed our lunches and coats and lined up for the bus. In the back of the room, one boy began to cry because he had forgotten to bring a lunch and would have to stay behind with another teacher. In a few minutes, the other children had contributed extra sandwiches, fruit, desserts, and drinks until the boy had a feast for his lunch. With new tears, this time tears of gratitude, he grabbed his coat, lined up, and climbed onto the bus.

We had given him a "cup of cold water." Acts of service are not always dramatic or earth-shattering. Simple caring is all that is needed. Discipleship means being alert for opportunities to care, to demonstrate God's loving-kindness, and to teach others to do the same.
Gene Blair

The Tool of Discouragement 

There is an old legend about Satan one day having a yard sale. He thought he'd get rid of some of his old tools that were cluttering up the place. So there was gossip, slander, adultery, lying, greed, power-hunger, and more laid out on the tables. Interested buyers were crowding the tables, curious, handling the goods. One customer, however, strolled way back in the garage and found on a shelf a well-oiled and cared-for tool. He brought it out to Satan and inquired if it was for sale. "Oh, no!" Satan answered. "That's my tool. Without it I couldn't wreck the church! It's my secret weapon!" "But what is it?" the customer inquired.
"It's the tool of discouragement," the devil said.
In the text Jesus is talking to the church about their attitude and deportment toward the prophets God sends among us as shepherds. He speaks frankly about acceptance and rejection, about kindness and trust. In short, he promises that in the minister's success among us shall come our own reward

Stephen M. Crotts and Stan Purdum, Sermons For Sundays: After Pentecost (First Third): Hidden In Plain View, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

 God Still Thinks about You 

Helmut Thielicke says that during World War II, his students often wrote from the battlefield saying, "I am so exhausted from marching, my stomach is so empty, I am so plagued with lice and scratching, I am so tormented by the biting cold of Russia and so dead tired, that I am totally occupied, without the least bit of inner space for any speculative thinking." Sometimes they would write that they were too weak to leaf through the Bible and were even lazy about the Lord's Prayer. Dr. Thielicke would reply, "Be thankful that the Gospel is more than a philosophy. If it were only a philosophy, you would just have it as long as you could keep it in mind and it could afford you intellectual comfort. But even when you can no longer think about God, he still thinks about you."

Herchel H. Sheets, When Jesus Exaggerated, CSS Publishing Company

Cast-off Items 

John Bowes, chairman of the parent company of Wham-O, the maker of Frisbees, once participated in a charity effort. He sent thousands of the plastic flying discs to an orphanage in Angola, Africa. He thought the children there would enjoy playing with them. 

Several months later, a representative of Bowes' company visited the orphanage. One of the nuns thanked him for the wonderful "plates" that his company had sent them. She told him the children were eating off the Frisbees, carrying water with them, and even catching fish with them. When the representative explained how the Frisbees were intended to be used, the nun was even more delighted that the children would also be able to enjoy them as toys. 

On one level, that story is rather amusing. On another, it is very sad. There are people who would prize even our cast-off items, who would be grateful to eat what we throw away. 

King Duncan, adapted from Gary B. Swanson, Frisbees and Guerillas

Whoever Welcomes You, Welcomes Me

Recently I was sent this story. The author said, I saw him in the church building for the first time on Wednesday. He was in his mid-70's with thinning silver hair and a neat brown suit. Many times in the past I had invited him to come. Several other Christian friends had talked to him about the Lord and had tried to share the good news with him. He was well respected, honest, a man of good character. He acted much like a Christian would act, but he never came to church or professed Christ. After I got to know him well and we had talked about a wide range of subjects I asked him if he had ever been to a church service.

He hesitated. Then with a twisted grimace told me of an experience he had as a boy. He was raised in a large family. His parents survived the depression but they struggled to provide food and clothing for the family. When he was around ten years old a friend invited him to go to church with his family.

He went - the Sunday School class was great. The songs were fun to sing and the stories, oh the great Bible stories, were exciting to hear. He had never heard anyone read from the Bible before. As class ended the teacher pulled him aside and said, "Son, please don't come again dressed as you are now. We want to look our best when we come into God's house."

He looked down at his old hand me down overalls that were certainly worn and tattered. He thought about that for a moment and said softly, "No ma'am I won't ever." Then he looked at me, the author wrote and said, "And you know what... I never did." It was clear that he was done with that conversation.

The author reflected, I am sure that the Sunday School teacher meant well and in fact was representing the feeling of the majority of the folks in that church. But what if, what if she had put her arms around the dirty little boy in the ragged overalls and said, "Son, I am thrilled that you came this morning and I hope you will come every chance you get to hear more about Jesus because he loves you so much." Moreover what if she would have talked with her pastor or her friends in the church and mobilized a full blown outreach effort to help this family make ends meet. 

What if that church would have thought, Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Or whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple will receive a great reward (v. 40 & 42)

The story ended like this: Yes I saw him in the church house for the first time on Wednesday and I cried as I looked at the immaculately dressed old gentleman lying there in his casket. He was looking his best. But all I could think of were those words of an impressionable little ten-year-old boy echoing in my mind, "No ma'am I won't ever." 

David Wiggs, Who Needs a Welcome?

Self-doubt: Burning on the Bottom of the Pan 

I remember an old story about a kindergarten teacher wrote a song about popcorn and then had her class crouch down on the floor as they sang it. At the appropriate point in the song, all the children would "pop up." The teacher had them "popping" all over the classroom. 

One day, during the popcorn song, the teacher noticed that one little boy remained crouched down when all the other children popped up. "What's wrong?" the teacher asked. "Why aren't you `popping' like the other children?"

The little boy replied, "Cause I'm burning on the bottom of the pan."

 Some of us are like that little boy. We feel like we are burning on the bottom of the pan. We feel like we have no worth as persons. 

Billy D. Strayhorn, How God Gets His KicksAll You Have to Do Is Look Up 

A substitute Sunday School teacher couldn't open the combination lock on the supply cabinet. So she went to the pastor for help. The pastor started turning the dial of the combination lock, stopped after the first two numbers, looked up serenely toward heaven, began moving his lips silently, turned to the final number, and opened the lock. 

The teacher gasped, "I'm in awe of your faith, pastor."
 "Really," he said, "it's nothing...