Sunday Homily 19 November 2017

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Reading 1 Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Reading 2 1 Thes 5:1-6

Gospel Mt 25:14-30

 If we were welcomed into a loving home with our necessities met, our toddlerhood compelled us to awaken with excitement:  We’re up and ready for a new day!  Come and play!  See Me!  Delight in me!  Know who I am and see what a can do!   Not an ounce of intimidation or insecurity.  We can do things!  We have talents!  Come and See!  And even for those less fortunate, the drive of the Divine Spark, what secularists call “the human spirit,” is strong in the young, striving to overcome parental neglect or adversity with Love.  Social workers are amazed at how even underprivileged children strive to evoke delight in others.

As we grow into new levels of creativity, childhood awakens us with surprising aptitudes. We withdraw into our own rooms with books or into playrooms with toys, or we go outdoors with tools and implements of earth and science and imagination as the Spirit moves us.  We explore and find out more about who we are and who God calls us to be.  If so blessed, we enjoy recognition from family and friends–the hug from dad, a kiss from mother, a brother or sister’s “pat on the back,” the Gold Stars from our teachers, the artwork or spelling test displayed on home refrigerators.  The Divine Spark grows within and without and our individual lights shine.

Our teen years, by contrast are filled with confusion.  A “come and go, approach / avoidance” of almost everyone and everything.  We may seclude ourselves more often in our rooms, but creativity is censored with judgments –our own judgments based on comparisons with others, social and media heroes, and constructive and sometimes not-so-constructive criticism and expectations of parents, teachers and others.  At a point when the Divine Spark needs reinforcement, we tend to question God and Faith and attend less to the spiritual self which, ironically, is the very pursuit that will guide us through this difficult time.  Still, we may find a group of friends with whom we identify and can shine, or certain talents burst forth from us–from only God knows where– to gain us recognition in school, in sports, in competitions.  And, if we’ve been blessed with confidence–an attribute not all are given nor can cultivate on their own–we navigate the storms of adolescence.  If not, we enter the Good Friday experiences of life.  We pout, we slog through our teen years with a wish and a prayer.  Hopefully, without totally eschewing enthusiasm for at least some “one,” some field of study, music or entertainment that helps us identify where we are, who we are and possibilities for the future.

Young Adult carries some adolescent residue, but college or technical school can support self-awareness and sharpen skills as we search for a meaningful livelihood and circle of friends and gain a more mature outlook on life.

Adulthood hits us with harsher realities about the degrees we can use our God-given talents including cognitive, spiritual and emotional intelligence and other skills at our work, at home and in our social networks. For decades many parents sacrificed these aspects of fulfillment for work that supplied the necessary food, clothing and shelter and education for their children.  Many adults today are surprised that they, too, still, in this age of progress, are having to do the same.   Some get depressed, some resentful, others seek either new employment or bide his or her time unto retirement.

Whatever the stage of life we are in, whatever the talents and enthusiasm, we have a God who became one like us in Jesus to guide us through these very dynamics among many others.  Jesus’ gentle yoke empowers us to accept our responsibilities and duties with His vision: God’s kingdom is at hand!   Literally, that means it is within reach within us — no matter the circumstances or personalities involved.  Although it may require more prayer than we think we have time for, more attentiveness to faith and identification with Scripture, we have within us the Divine Spark that can bring us to use our talents and enthusiasms no matter the job, or career, or studies or family situation.  We just need not gauge our worth on our salaries or bank accounts or people’s opinions—a very strong temptation in our quantifying world’s vision.

This is the Gospel truth: We have no great moments in our lives without a pile of smaller ones to stand on.  We’ve all created more “little steps” than we think!  Beneath all these, however, is the solid foundation of faith that utilizes the Divine Spark bestowed on us from the beginning—in evidenced from toddlerhood right down to today. Chapters may be finished in our lives, but, friends, our books remain open.  See yet what God can and will do to make us fully alive, never taking for granted the power of this Eucharist and the gifts of the Holy Spirit!  As God told the prophet Jeremiah, and, by extension, to all the Israelites in exile from their homeland:  “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope ( Jeremiah 29:11 )” As people of faith, disciples of Jesus Christ, we are all “oracles of the Lord” sharing witness to HOPE for ourselves and others.

You may have heard the story of a visitor to a quarry who asked the people who were toiling there what they were doing. “Can’t you see I’m breaking stone?” said one of them, gruffly.  “I’m making a living for my wife and family,” said another.  The third said something else entirely: “I’m helping to build a cathedral,” he replied. And he smiled.

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All Saints Day

Today on All Saints Day, November 1, 2017, the Church commemorates Saints in Heaven – those officially canonized AND those Known to God Alone. To address ongoing misunderstanding toward Catholic and Orthodox Christianity regarding our veneration of Saints – in some denominations judged as “idolatry,” I offer these explanations:

  1. All Christians recognize “Christ With Us,” in and through Believers in Jesus. Christ is expressed in every age in and through all the Baptized as they live out their faith. I.e., Christ, by God’s design has Many Faces. (An equivalent understanding for non-Christians, we believe and us the name “Christ” to express what others often refer to as “Heart of God,” moreover, “the Spirit of God united to humanity in Faith, Word and Blessed Deeds.”) [1]
  2. To honor goodness in any Christian is to recognize Christ’s presence.
  3. To remember a “Saint” is to remember how Christ was made present through his or her lifetime and the ways they embodied of faith, hope and charity because of their Christian Faith.  It is fitting to offer gratitude for their witness. These Saints also extend an understanding of “What Would Jesus Do” in different cultures, societies and time frames. [2]
  4. To venerate the Saints as we do on All SAINTS DAY is to witness to the world that we believe in:
    1. a. Life after death for all the faithful who live lives true to their Baptism and to all whose Faith is known to God Alone and All Who Die in Your Friendship” (i.e. we no longer hold heaven is reserved for only recognized, canonized Saints, nor for Christians alone.)[3] 
    2. There is a vital connection between Heaven and Earth – a unity of Spirit moving humanity to goodness, kindness, truth, love and shared beyond the grave through prayer and adoration of the one, true God.
    3. the efficacy of Prayer that unites us to God in Christ who shares His Spirit with all believers.  I.e., one prayer to Jesus Christ is united to all prayer and adoration of Jesus Christ –no one’s prayer is separate or divorced from others.
    4. Jesus is ever present to and through all who unite with Him as disciples; “The Body, i.e. “The Body of Christ = Christian Community” not only on earth but extended  into heaven.
  5. We build on Scripture when Jesus assures the faithful “37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”  Luke 20: 37-38
  6. There is comfort in the faith that Discipleship in Jesus continues from the first Apostles to us and through us onward toward eternity.
  7. Christ’s Body is extensive and inclusive, not separate from those who believe in Him. See John 15: 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

[1] Ephesians 4: 1-6:  Ï, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to9 preserve the unity o9f the spirit through the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

[2] 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-12  11 To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, 12 [d]that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

[3] Our Liturgy (Mass) includes this phrase in our Eucharistic Prayer.

Calling Forth Constancy to the First Commandment

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time       Reading 1 IS 45:1, 4-6 Gospel: MT 22:15-21

 The old sensibility called the Divine Right of Kings–that rulers can be instruments of God’s grace IF they choose to cooperate with it, is older than the Bible.  Cyrus of Persia did cooperate with God (knowingly or unknowingly).  Having conquered the Babylonians, he took over the Middle East Empire and allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland, which new Emperors rarely, if ever, did. Rulers usually did not allow people to stay or return to their homelands in fear that once gathered together, they were more likely to revolt.

With Cyrus of Persia one of the rare exceptions, what was believed to be “The Divine Right of Kings” was used and abused through the centuries until finally someone shouted, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” meaning that all too often, rulers and people in authority misuse their power.  Read the headlines in any century, any decade and there’s plenty proof. Taking Presidents and statesmen, explorers and rulers off their pedestals has been the work of historians for centuries, but when people attempt to do this in a literal way, controversy ensues.  And, although there are legitimate concerns on all sides of the issue, as always, the Gospels insist on a bigger picture: God is GOD; we are not.  People of faith are expected to put God above all others, to carefully consider God’s Will as we make our own decisions.  When people do well, praise them!  But, in our hearts, praise God, too–for nothing good is accomplished except from God.  We must believe that.  Therefore, respect positive human achievements while humbly acknowledging all human beings are flawed.  Perhaps all our monuments and tributes need to reflect that.  Meanwhile, Jesus tells us: be responsible with the things of this world for in doing so we get good practice in being responsible to heaven.

We should all know by now that the primary meaning of “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” is NOT about the separation of Church and State.  For too long, Jesus’ statement has been misused to excuse a divorce between moral behavior at home and moral behavior in government and elsewhere.  If God is truly the center of our lives, then “repaying to Caesar” must mean taking on secular responsibilities to give God Glory, because, as the Bible and History teach us, all “Caesars” –be they princes or politicians, business executives or priests of bishops—fall short of leading fully God-centered lives and making consistent God-centered decisions.

To approach misunderstood passages of Scripture such as this one, it is always best to put them in conversations with other passages of Scripture that support and elucidate their meaning. Let’s look at these.

Luke 12: 29-32

As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. 30 All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. 32 Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

In other words, disciples of Jesus must view our material needs and their political implications as SECONDARY to Love 0f God, the dignity of each human person as Child of God, and love of neighbor.  God comes first! Discipleship in Jesus comes FIRST! Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit comes first! Then we have a taste of the Kingdom and everything else falls into place—a world with less hostility, less anxiety because all decisions are made for mutual benefit of all rather than advancement for some at the expense of others.  

Here’s another passage: Luke 16: 8 to 10

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.[e] I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,[f] so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 [g]The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

 

Jesus speaks here of money in its most negative aspect:  it’s all “dishonest,” in the sense of the illusions it perpetuates:  delusions of grandeur, of inflated self-importance, celebrity, fame—all these are fleeting, transitory and distractions from the TRUTH of why we are here. The purpose and meaning of life: each person, each family, each community is responsible to GOD. Of course, it is important to be RESPONSIBLE for our worldly doings. We must apply our ethics to our material consumption, and our politics.  Indeed, wealth can be and may be used for good purposes that extend the kingdom of God, and when it does, we find signs of HEAVEN in the here and now.  But clearly in these times, more signs are needed to empower us to receive the blessings of eternity.  When few signs exist on earth, Heaven becomes disconnected, divorced from the real world in our daily consciousness; we become lax in our attentiveness to the Communion of Saints; Intercessory Prayer feels like a waste of our time—and that’s never a good thing.  We must remind ourselves that Jesus’ insisted that “the Kingdom of God is at Hand” on earth because it is intimately connected to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The last Scripture passage that I will address, (there are many more, but, well, I leave you to look them up) is the segment when Jesus focuses on the limitations of our pride in material and political accomplishments over spiritual ones:

Luke 21: 5 [b]While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

 

I.e. all human accomplishments are transitory. What remains for us are remnants of the past that must be studied and scrutinized if our histories are to add to Wisdom for the present and future. We must let our Faith determine what was truly GOOD, what was GOD-CENTERED and what was not.  We don’t often appropriate our histories in that way, but the Gospel insists that we do, addressing everything about our societies that create suffering, pain and disillusionment—and insisting on ways and means that accentuate improvements, redemption and HOPE instead.

If Jesus’ wisdom isn’t enough for us today (and alas, it often isn’t for so many), we can tell them they will find parallels in the Hebrew Prophets, in the writings of St. Paul and the Saints and those of many secular scholars, writers and poets from one century to the next.  

Reflecting on these scriptures, I recalled a poem most of us were assigned to study in high school: Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.[4]

 

We can spend a lot of time and emotional energy arguing about statues, but the truth is they are all going to fall and decay like the ruins of Rome, Ephesus and Pompeii.  That we’re made for eternity is the crux of the matter. We were made for God.  And that’s the only proper tribute to anyone—the degree he or she manifest their Love of God and Neighbor. Jesus was always aware of GOD, always attentive to the Spirit and asks nothing more of his disciples that you and I do the same.  GOD is everlasting who graciously offers to share eternity with the Saints. So, attend to Caesar, engage in political thought and debate, participate in community events, in commerce, economics and industry for such are the blessings of work and proper use of our God-given talents and creativities, but engage in these always with an eye on the Love of God and neighbor.  Stay in communion with Christ Jesus – for He Alone is more eternal than Spring itself.

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!


 

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.

Short Homily for Today

The World’s Shadow advises: “Compare” (.i.e. Yourself With Others), “Covet” (What Others Are & What Others Have), “Compete” (Outshine others and Get Ahead of Them). The Scriptures counter that with “Appreciate” (Who God Made in You), “Accelerate” (To be the best you can be) and “Affirm” (All that is good in you and others to Give God Glory!”) That’s the heart of Today’s Homily on Isaiah 55 and Matthew 20.