RESTING IN THE LORD! 

Homily for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1    IS 25:6-10A
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2  PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel Mt 22:1-14

RESTING IN THE LORD!   Isn’t that one or our objectives today?  We come to Mass to “Rest in the Lord,” as the Psalmist wrote: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;” he refreshes my soul.”

Hearing the 23rd Psalm once again—We’re hearing it for the 4th time this year and will once more if that option is taken on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd –we’re reminded that it is a Psalm of consolation; confidence and trust in God taking care of us, soothing our souls. God is the God of hospitality—rewarding any weary traveler who arrives, freely, willingly with reverence and deference to the Source of All Being. We know this because the Psalmist is already a person of faith—through whom we are invited to see ourselves as rightfully and utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus’ parable extends the 23rd Psalm with its image of God as the great host, but he embellishes it with a shot of reality:  everyone is invited to the Lord’s banquet—the table is ready, but many won’t attend.  Some are busy with other things; others refuse outright; others protest with downright hostility.  We should not be surprised by the range of these refusals.  We all consider them–each in our own way, yes, even those of us who chose to be at Worship this afternoon.  Why the confusion?  Why the mixture of feelings of approach / avoidance / willingness / uncertainty?

Because coming into the presence of God can be exacting.  It requires surrender to the Spirit which in many ways confronts our busy lives, our preoccupations that so readily keep “Christ consciousness” at bay; distractions that  feed our illusions that we are as self-sufficient, self-reliant, masters of our own ships and vehicles.  We arrive at mass hoping we may take away some new insight, some thought for the day or concept to get us through the week, but we still may leave without a genuine experience of God.  We know this because our mixture of desire and ambivalence at Mass often comes from the knowledge that it takes determination and great effort on our part—far more than simply setting time set aside—be it for this for Mass, or prayers throughout each day, time for contemplating Scriptures alone and/or with others as part of our daily or weekly routine. We have these tools at our fingertips—all of us, these are the timeless tools for every age, but, like in the times of Jesus and forever after, our busy schedules and daily distractions may prevent us from the deep surrender that allows God to minister to us, Jesus to anoint our heads with oil, the Holy Spirit to make more of this meal of words and bread and wine. The point of all this: relationships take time, require tender care; insist that we persevere in vulnerability – not to everyone or everything but to the Father, Son and Spirit.   Here. Now. What we experience at Mass is meant, by its weekly repetition to develop in us the facility of accepting the Tenderness of Jesus in all places, all situations, all engagements.

Relationships take time and willingness to be still.  Without that we keep living lives of avoidance –running from God, from intimacy with God and others. There was a song by folk singer Harry Chapin that became a # 1 hit in back in 1974.  It played for months on end, and for many years afterward–so strongly did people relate to it. Entitled “The Cats in the Cradle,” it was about a father obsessed with work and scheduled activities, who neglects (if not outwardly avoids) spending time with his growing son.  When the man retires and seeks, (finally!) some quality time with his son, he finds his offspring busy with many things: Like Martha in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary.  The refrain went like this:  And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon “When you coming home, son?”  “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’re going to have a good time then.”  I.e., the time that never happened, the time that will never come.

Stillness. Quiet. Prayerful Intimacy.  Surrendering our sense of time—that’s the goal of every mass! Maybe it should take more than an hour!  How much time would we need to learn the art of vulnerability with God, contemplative receptiveness, to hold and cultivate this Eucharistic reality beyond our time together.  I could remind you that in other parts of the world each Mass goes on for hours, with greater lengths of song and silence, of words and contemplative prayer, Words leading up to Eucharist and savoring the awareness God is present!  God is within!   God is everywhere –in you, in me, in our breathing, in the beating of our hearts, in activating our minds with story, with songs and images—bestowed on the faithful for our benefit.

And, yet, like the Israelites in the desert complaining to Moses, we’re impatient, we want to get going, we want to move on.   To what?  In their case the Promised Land but, as they found out, the land required work- — yes, required work, required patience, required cooperation, and, often the people made a mess of it.  The Bible tells us they even lost it.  Well, not completely lost, but certainly long delayed and still not yet fulfilled. You and I are equally guilty of delaying the intimacy with God that we continue to seek, delaying the intimacy through experiences of Jesus as Sacrament that we still take for granted by not investing the necessary patience, the hard work of total surrender.

Still, each Mass is an opportunity.  We begin by admitting our impatience with God (perhaps that is the most common, universal “sin!”)  — thus the Kyrie and penitential aspects of the GLORIA!  We give praise to God while acknowledging we so often forget to do so! Then we must follow through by an act of decision and free will to fully surrender to the power of the Scriptures—words and images–and the sensations of the Eucharist, Holy Meal that it is, to savor the Christ With US and IN US.   In other words, literally taking Jesus with us as we go to work, to home, to leisure.  In the parable, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. We pray today, we won’t lose the bigger picture because we are often busy, over-scheduled and / or burnt out.

In the parable, the king said to one of the guests, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ The Wedding Garment represents a converted life full of good deed.  Sinners are invited but are expected to repent and willingly clothe themselves in perpetual holiness —as envisioned in The Book of Revelation as those wearing the white robes of the elect  Clothing ourselves in Christ is meant to be the purpose, the ultimate attainment of our lives. Is Christ in our business suits?  Our leisurewear? Our comfortable pajamas and nightgowns?  What does that mean?  It means we wear patience and kindness to ourselves and others, we see all life as prayer, we cultivate tenderness as strength, correct wrongs in charitable ways – filled with understanding and HOPE.

Today’s Gospel warns all believers against complacency.  Jesus offers the Vision of Isaiah – a great banquet available to all people, saints and sinners alike.  He incarnates the soothing words of the Psalm: restful waters, banquets overflowing with healing nourishment anticipating the taste of wheat on our tongues, the welcoming, healing power of the Mass.  A vision we can savor, maintain and perpetuate — or not. The Vision has it’s time, it will not delay—the banquet is PIPING HOT, i.e. ever-ready.  I often return to the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:3 and invite you to do the same:  For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

NOW is the TIME for there is no time like the present. As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians:  13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. . .. 19 My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  And, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures: “Where your treasure is, there, also will you heart be.”  Peace!


 

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Do Not Be Afraid

27th Sunday of OT -Year A Homily Fr. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.

Scriptures: Isaiah 5: 1-7:   Psalm 80: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10:   Gospel of Matthew 21: 33-43

Parents say to their children:  This is your Home; We have taken the responsibility of your material needs, your need for love and nurturing AND the essential importance of learning about cooperation, mutual respect and the give and take, patience and generosity required for appreciating life in this family, and ultimately, in this world.  Together we are building your FUTURE.  And, if the family is a family of faith, they would add, continually, “God will see us through.”

The tenant farmers in the Gospel are equivalent to children or adults dependent upon a parent/ adult / employer for their life and livelihood. But evidently, they either have not had good parenting OR, for reasons we are not given, they found themselves filled with FEAR & DISTRUST.   They turned inward instead of outward.  Rather than bringing grievances, uncertainties, disappointments to their employer, they decided to take matters into their own hands. No desire for deeper understanding, no desire for compromise, no prayer, no attempt at dialogue are in evidence. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they empowered their fear and distrust which inevitably gave way to “Selfishness” and “Greed.”  Their fears fed envy and jealousy, their distrust, violence. In the parable, the consequences were deadly; a matter of spiritual life and death, because the true OWNER of the Vineyard was God, the Father of All, who welcomes our questioning, our prayer, our disappointments.  In hearing the parable today, we are meant to muse “If only the Tenant Farmers had turned to God who sent His Son to bring deeper understanding, and hope; if only WE could abandon our fears and distrust–be it of God, Church or State and believe without reservation that God’s Holy Spirit is with us continually to inspire, to engage and motivate us to work through our anxieties and fears and strive for a better future.

Many commentators and pundits tells us that Americans are not living in faith these days but in Fear and Distrust. We read that many Americans are afraid of immigrants, of foreigners, or people of religions other than their own.  They read, see and hear the news –which, because of the way news is prioritized—is often the BAD NEWS of community, country and cosmos—and are literally afraid and demoralized.  Others are afraid of our government limiting our freedoms, while, at the same time, many others lost faith in our government to keep us safe.  Some want protection from the economy and its impact on the workforce, others consider that inappropriate intervention.  Some make speeches about freedom of religion and freedom of speech–noting that, at times, questions as to “whose religion” and “whose speech” are not satisfactorily answered; nor is the degree to which hate and violence-inducing speech is a right or abuse of a right.  And most recently, many writers deduce that fear is what makes so many people unwilling to evaluate the benefits and burdens of the 2nd Amendment– about the right to bear arms as it applies to the 21st century.   Common sense tells us that the lawmakers of 1791 could never have envisioned the great diversity of guns and ammunitions available to the American civilian today—certainly not the kind that were used to kill a music loving crowd in Las Vegas.  But, for many, it is as if the mere suggestion of a discussion on the possible ways we could adapt an 18th century Law to 21st century circumstances was somehow “Un-American.”  We have to ask, “What price “liberty?” when fear and distrust rule the heartland?

One thing the Scriptures tell us is that Liberty has responsibilities.  Individual Freedoms of one person or group do, in fact, impact the individuality and freedom of others. When Jesus tells us that He is with us “For when two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them,” it’s not only His assurance of his answers to prayer, but to the necessity of communion with and among others for His presence to take full hold of our lives.  To apply this Gospel to ourselves today, we must ask, “To what extent do we have faith and trust in God?  In Jesus and His teachings?  In the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins as part of the road to Resurrection of the Body and Life in the World to come?”  In short, “to what extent do we offer Jesus the highest priority within our lives, positions and priorities, and, yes, even our politics?” To what extent to we cling to Jesus who repeatedly tells people of faith: “Do Not Be Afraid?”

The Gospel today is not only a reflection on religious history regarding those who did not accept Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, which, on the surface, is exactly what the parable is about.   It is also about how any or all of God’s Children can misuse the faith and life situations we have been given.  It’s about how people who lack trust in God, in Providence, in the Holy Spirit active in the world bring suffering upon themselves.

Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our contributions to America’s distrust and fears; confess our personal culpabilities as to the extent we contribute to the fears and anxieties of our age, rather than trust in God to guide us through them with patience, with charity, with hope. Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 Paul’s emphasis on Thanksgiving strengthens the foundation of faith that Everything belongs to God: every land and every people.  Recognizing our very lives are “on loan” from God, makes gratitude the only way to live.  We have this Eucharist to focus us on Thanksgiving, trust that the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus, both, will guide us through the anxieties of the age to insist on fairness, justice and hope—and not to be afraid of change that is for the better for all rather than a few; not be afraid to cultivate charitable discourse “in-person,” i.e., with persons rather than in the impersonal dimensions of the internet alone.  Not afraid to say we believe in a communion of saints-in-the making, believe in Christ Jesus and that communion commands dialogue with rich and poor, church leaders and local communities, police and their precinct constituents, neighbors with neighbors, citizens with immigrants, different colors of peoples mingling with peoples of different colors.

May this Eucharist increase the grace that endows us with courage, perseverance and hope to address this age of anxiety, its fears and discouragements. May our worship today inspire us to advance the Good News: God is with us, to help us expand God’s kingdom so that HOPE is offered to all, here, now and in the Future for generations to come.

Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.