Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP (Biblical Readings follow at the end of the homily.)

Long before Freud, Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences and Psychology, there was the Bible with precepts and laws to govern human behavior.  Evidently, we humans think of anything and everything and thus required mandates and prohibitions from on high: Do this, don’t do that!  Then, as now, guidelines remain essential for humanity’s survival.  God mandates that we all get along. 

Moreover, our Covenant with God insists we have a future to build, goals to achieve. From the beginning, God, in God’s infinite Wisdom, desired human participation in building an earthly kingdom to prepare every person for heaven.  Whether we like it or not, Cooperation with God and Reverence for all God’s creation –people, animals, nature, things– have been, and always will be, part of God’s plan. 

The Signs of our Times demand this.  We can no longer perpetuate the sins of our ancestors. Nor can we afford to succumb to neglect of vital issues they ignored. We were baptized into “kingdom building:” Each of us destined to make our mark advancing equality, justice with mercy.  Our Eucharistic Spirituality insists “everyone belongs,” everyone is respected.  Cultures may separate us.  Economies and politics divide us. But Jesus unites us.  Remember, Our Savior never accepted the status quo, never defaulted to convenience and comfort when improvements could be made.  He insisted on new wine poured into new wineskins, knowing full well that, without his help, our fallible nature will keep us cultivating the old.

Yes, Jesus acquainted Himself with temptation for our sake. He understood the allures of self-aggrandizement, and one-upmanship.  He knew well that we prefer comfort and security at the expense of integrity and hope.  He knew we would sin; He knew we cause harm to ourselves and others. Therefore, he insisted that we reconcile with one another—never lording another’s faults or flaws or wickedness over him or her, but instead,  acknowledging our own temptations as we strive to  reconcile wrongdoers to the better way: the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes.  These are our litmus tests for our behavior and everyone else’s.  We must hold ourselves and others accountable if we are ever to move forward to a true communion of Saints.  But we must not be “holier than thou” for    condescension and condemnation never win over anyone.

Today’s Readings remind us we are to warn the wicked to turn from evil ways while making every effort not to become wicked ourselves.  Who among us has not been betrayed?  Who hasn’t been put down, scorned, unforgiven?  Whose most cherished beliefs and values have not been dismissed or scorned? Evil beckons whenever these affronts occur. We must remember what Jesus knew 2,000 years ago:   Because everyone suffers, deal with the suffering others cause by addressing one problem at a time, one person at a time.   That is the most humbling approach; only true humility will work things out.

Naturally, it is easier to be humble with people we know and love.  When we witness wrongdoing, when we or others we care about get hurt, we usually need to vent first –expunge the anger, the outrage, the hurt so that we may cool off.  It is fitting, then, to vent to God and to loved ones before we address our offenders.  Still, we are obliged to let them know not only that the Church expect better of them, but that we know they are capable of better behavior.  Trusting in another person’s better self is the way to broach wrongdoing.  As disciples In Christ, it is the only way.

Of course, when dealing with people we do not love, Jesus’ prescription is next to impossible to follow on our own.  It is especially difficult with people who have authority over us -a manager, a boss, a benefactor.  In fairness, if we do not feel safe –-emotionally or physically, one-on-one reconciliation can be unworkable without the help of others.  Thankfully, Jesus says, “take one or two along with you.”  Thank God those folks are in our lives!  But even then, the step we often miss, or refuse to take, before we attempt to reconcile is prayer—praying alone and with those who support us. Prayer will fortify us to move forward. Notice how Jesus’ precept on reconciliation concludes with his insistence on prayer.     

Prayer will prepare us to handle uncontrite offenders by placing us in solidarity with Jesus on the cross, who, out of compassion, forgave the unrepentant. And although we may need to start with “pity,” (the lesser cousin of compassion), prayer, and perseverance in prayer, will, in time, move pity to empathy. For isn’t it sad when we are, or anyone is, mean?  Isn’t it a shame that people can choose to hurt, to offend, cause harm to any person, to any animal, to anything on which goodness, truth and health depend?  Isn’t it a pity when we denigrate our being made-in-God’s-image by clinging so tightly to the past that we refuse to move forward to advance human destiny toward the Kingdom of God?

Pity may be the pivotal point of redemption for reconciliation and getting along. Was not compassion for sinners the reason for Jesus’ incarnation?  We must cultivate a daily consciousness that we are always in need of a Savior and embrace the Thanksgiving in this and every Eucharist.   Without Jesus, we have no true humility. Without humility we find little recourse to prayer. Without prayer, we have little pity for the sinner—be it our own sins or anyone else’s.  So, let us pray:  

“For every person our lives have touched, for every person whose life has touched ours, for good and for ill, whether known or unknown to us, Lord, have pity!  Strengthen the gifts of Your Holy Spirt in us.  Nurture us in patience and humility that inspire reconciliation, and sustain us in faith, hope, and love.  Let Your Kingdom come.”

Lectionary: 127

Reading 1

EZ 33:7-9

Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ”
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
But if you warn the wicked,
trying to turn him from his way,
and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt,
but you shall save yourself.

Responsorial Psalm

PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2

ROM 13:8-10

Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, ”
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Alleluia

2 COR 5:19

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

MT 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. 
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. 
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. 
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time –Invest in Faith: There’s a Great Pay-Off!

Reading 1:   Wis 9:13-18b     Responsorial Psalm   Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17  

Reading 2     Phmn 9-10, 12-17    Gospel    Lk 14:25-33

By this time in our history, what Catholic doesn’t know when Jesus states “You must hate your father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister if you are to follow me”  he used hyperbole / exaggeration to express that we must love God first above all others.  If not, we tend to love family and friends selfishly, manipulatively, with jealousy or envy or with inflated pride or too much criticism.  Following Jesus first, we see our loved ones as Jesus sees them, love them as Jesus loves them, support them as much as we can mirror Jesus’  support—i.e., loving them while insisting on the Two Great Commandments which foster honesty, humility, forgiveness, and courage to repair any damage that we’ve done.   As for “hating even our lives,” of course, we must always be GRATEFUL for our lives, for being invited to share in Jesus’ life, his mission, cultivating his perspectives in how we interact with the world.  What we need “to hate”  is our tendency to default to society’s ways of valuing us – our looks, our possessions, our neighborhoods, our needs for other’s approval.  Grateful that we may have these things but not resentful that we may not.

In the NYTIMES Sunday Arts section today, there’s an insightful interview with Linda Ronstadt, a very popular recording artist of the 1970 and 80’s , now retired and, it seems, living gracefully with Parkinson’s disease.  Regarding her unique recordings of Mexican songs when bringing Spanish into mainstream pop was extremely rare, her interviewer asked her:  ““When critics talk about the pop artists who brought music from outside the U.S. or U.K. to the pop mainstream, they mention Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, not you. Is that frustrating?  HER RESPONSE:  Who cares? My music is not curing cancer. It will be gone soon enough.

That, my friends is a shining example of being thankful for our lives and talents while being humble and keeping the big picture –whether we ever get our name in a newspaper or our YouTube posts go viral. 

Following Jesus, picking up our cross—i.e. accepting trials and conflicts and difficulties as challenges, opportunities for grace, and being “ever-ready,” “prepared,” “prudent,” eager to learn is the theme for our Eucharist today.  And, I know, how often we may not feel any of that.  Remember, each Mass is here to return us to hope, to courage—to trust in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  I know that not all family, friends and co-workers support us in these beliefs and endeavors.   Many chide, or ridicule us for going to Mass, or for remaining Catholic, or for believing in God.  Others are quick to lord it over us when we do something harmful or indulge our tempers or hurt ourselves or another human being. It is then that we must humbly acknowledge how dependent we are on Christ and His Story of forgiveness, for reconciliation, for courage to admit our wrongs and make amends.  Today’s Eucharist offers us that, too.  Thank God!

And yes, the Church as institution has given us plenty of reasons to judge it, to even hate it.  Yet today and everyday Jesus gives us the grace to hold it accountable with faith and hope, loving it back to its true self and reinstating it to its primordial purpose. Hey, if not  you and me, who?

So, may we not despair that only some of us among family, friends and neighbors have chosen to celebrate Jesus in us and for us today. We never know when the deposit of Grace bestowed on in any given Eucharist will bear fruit  — even when we may not be conscious of it.  I’ll close with what I hope is for you a shining example –an inspiration—as to the possibilities, the grace in store for us precisely because we’re here, cultivating our friendship with God and all that entails.

One day, a certain dad indulged his dark side in ways that were deeply demeaning to his adult daughter.  She found herself brimming with rage.  But a voice within, however, pleaded with her: “Postpone your wrath!”  “Postpone your wrath!” What Eucharist do you think that came from?  “Anyway,” she pacified herself with this thought, “I’ll plot my revenge at a later date.“

As the days went by, the incident replayed repeatedly in her mind, evoking the worst of all her childhood and adult memories.  She’d see her father’s face before her and cringe and craze.  And then it happened!  A realization that she didn’t have to live this way.  She had a choice.  Yes, she could indulge these thoughts and feelings, or she could release herself from unending trauma. She must recall the good times, the pleasant moments with her dad or she’d make herself sick and kill her kinship with her father forever. 

She decided to throw him a party. She hadn’t prayed to Jesus for deliverance, but faith is active even when we’re unconscious of it. Her preparations brought good memories forward to balance the bad ones. Her dad was not a determinedly daily tyrant. No, not at all.  She recalled moments of kindness, patience and generosity. Grace happened!  The party was a singular success and none of those who attended, especially dear dad, would ever know all that transpired in her heart.  She was free, her heart restored, and she thought, “Thank God!” Remember, friends, Eucharist means “Thanksgiving.”

Back to Basics: Repent and Forgive! (Again!)

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 

January 21, 2018

 Reading 1 Jon 3:1-5, 10

Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Reading 11 1 Cor 7:29-31

Gospel Mk 1:14-20

God called Jonah to go to the despised country of Nineveh. Reluctantly, Jonah goes and gives them all the opportunity to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. They respond. They say, “YES.”

 Repentance and Forgiveness ground our Biblical Faith from our foundations in Judaism to the heavenly heights of Christianity. The Church repeats the message relentlessly and so today, it insists we equate God’s call to Jonah with Jesus’ Call to the Disciples.

Yes, Repentance and Forgiveness ARE the Cornerstones of Christianity because it is Jesus, the Cornerstone, who insists on repentance and forgiveness from everyone, to everyone.

 Sorry, friends, gut it’s time for another refresher.  We cannot refute the centrality of Reconciliation:

a.    John the Baptist heralded these as the only daily workouts that prepare us to recognize and receive Jesus

b.    Jesus endorsed them as he healed individuals, reconciling them from the world of sin into the kingdom of forgiveness

c.     Our Baptisms order us away from a sinful, judgmental, condemning world into world of forgiveness

d.    Jesus on the Cross insists forgiveness is the crux of His Mission and very heart of God.

 God knows it’s difficult! 

e.    Jonah wholeheartedly resents God for giving the Ninevites a second chance

f.      The brother of the Prodigal Son is irate his brother is welcomed back into the family

g.     Peter questions, HOW OFTEN? Jesus responds, “As often as it takes, Peter, as often as it takes.” As if to say, “Frankly, Peter, I’ve called you, your brothers and your sisters to love people to death.”

 Oh, but it is a terrible sacrifice to repent and to forgive. Christian History has not often exemplified these virtues, but THE CALL REMAINS, just as it always has, and always will. Today, the Church insists THE CALL IS NOW:

 Remember the Grand Gesture of Pope John Paul II at Millennium: On behalf of the entire Roman Catholic Church he repented for the Crusades and all other acts of violence the Church committed against the Jewish people, Orthodox Christians, Muslims and everyone else through the ages. He Revealed to the world publicly, equivocally that the Church must always have REPENTANT HEART.  Of course, not all individuals or groups received the Pope’s request well or offered to participate in reconciliation with us, but, still, seeds were planted. Humility’s power to inspire may not take immediate root, but it does linger long.

 Today’s Call to Discipleship asks us to Renew and Reclaim this Central Christian Objective. We must go to our brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, business associates—anyone we have offended, hurt, betrayed and offer not only words of sorrow but determined efforts to heal the hurt, repair the loss as much as humanly possible.  Courage, friends!  We will be empowered by this Eucharist and by our renewal of Faith in the Holy Spirit this very day.

 Don’t despair!  Yes, we know that of course, there is no guarantee that those we have offended will welcome us or our message. But whether they do or not, the Holy Spirit will increase grace in us and leaves us with gratitude for who we are and who we are becoming–deepening our friendship with Jesus, our brother.  And isn’t that why we are here today?  To allow humility to take hold of us, grace will grow, and we may be thankful that we’ve done our part knowing that God forgives us whether others ever will.   

 Now, we must address the other, perhaps more difficult aspects of reconciliation.  What do we do when family or friends hurt or betray us, show no remorse, make no attempts to repent or seek reconciliation.  What then? (I’ve shared this with you all before but evidently the CHURCH in these readings insist that we review them today!)

a.    Before we share our hurt and anger with another, first and foremost bring our anger and hurt to God. We need to turn to quick, spontaneous inner prayer asking God to turn our anger to pity and ultimately to compassion for human weakness, so we can forgive those who’ve hurt us in our hearts before we even address the situation.  Should we find ourselves in the midst of an accelerating argument simply say, “I’m too angry with too many intense feelings to be able to address this right now.”  Take as much “Time Out,” as we need before compassion consumes us enough to address the wrongdoing. We need to pray in the same way whenever relatives/friends/neighbors do not hurt us directly but hurt others that we love or act in way we were taught that refute the 10 Commandments? E.g. Bigotry.

b.    Try our best show concern for the other without judgment, i.e., by saying things like, “What are you feeling right now that moves you to speak this way?” That shows LOVE and CONCERN for the person and prevents us from falling into judgment or a feeling of false superiority.  Then say how we feel, e.g., “I feel disappointment that you’ve chosen to say or act this way.” This exemplifies the task of working through our feelings first before we try to discuss the subject or the sin.” Once feelings are expressed and understood, we might then be ready to ask, “Are not the Ten Commandments important to both of us? How may we apply them to this situation?”

c.     Ask: “Do you at all feel pressured to act in this way –pressured by society, another person; do you think this is your only choice?” (Remember we often sin out of weakness rather than full consent of our wills.)

d.    Ask: “Would you like to explore with me other choices that may be of greater benefit to you and others?”

e.    Ask, “Can you accept the possibility that your words and actions are hurtful to you and others?”

f.      Explore what kind of restitution is appropriate.  We may ask, “How might I support you in taking responsibility for your words and actions?” In more complex situations, never be ashamed to bring this family, neighbor or work situation to a facilitator, counselor, doctor or priest.

 If the person is unwilling to continue the conversation, or take responsibility, make amends for his or her actions, YOU, as disciple, have witnessed the WAY. You have planted a seed.  Ultimately, then, we must decide:

a.    We may need to reorient the relationship to something less personal, less frequent, albeit without rancor, hurt or ongoing disappointment.

 We must always remember that Forgiveness, like LOVE, is an act of the WILL!  No one FEELS like forgiving, but the task of those who have been called is to conform our Will to God’s will. Remember God gave us FREE WILL and the consequences of our actions will all play themselves out in time.  Trust in God. God’s timing, too. It’s not our job to teach all people all lessons. But we can teach ourselves to have peace within our hearts even in the midst of a sinful world.

 My dear friends, being a Christian is HARD WORK.  As we come to the Eucharist today, I invite you to pray these two short prayers with me so that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit will be strengthened in us this day:

 “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us, sinners.”

  “Oh, God, who instructs the hearts of the faithful by the Light of the Holy Spirit, grant us that, by the same Spirit, we may judge wisely the things of earth and rejoice in the Spirit’s Consolation!”

 

Here’s a reprint of my Tools for Love-Forgiveness (Now as ONE-WORD)

 Love-Forgiveness

We participate in Love-Forgiveness (I preach this now as ONE WORD) or we do not.  Both are inextricably linked –we can’t have one without the other.  We must cultivate Love-Forgiveness in our hearts and invite loved ones to do the same.

What’s needed for love-forgiveness to reign? Here’s the short list of what to do when we are hurt, angry, betrayed:

  1. Vent, Rage and Cry to the Only Fully Objective Loved One — GOD; Jesus Himself prayed psalms of lament and disappointment.

 

  1. Secure that God loves you in your anger, your hurt, your betrayal –that God’s love for you is the foundation of your life—pray that you are moved to PITY the one who hurt you. See in him or her a fellow human being who has fallen from grace, given into temptation of selfishness, greed, violence, fear or weakness.

 

  1. Take TIME OUT, allow yourself time to let grace take hold of you and move you from hurt, and/ or rage to pity and, finally, to tenderness

 

  1. Pray Pity be transformed to TENDERNESS as you would offer tenderness to a disobedient child; everyone has a right to live, to learn, to improve, to encounter God through Love-Forgiveness – In this world of ours, it is one of the primary ways to encounter God.

 

  1. With patience, discern forms of accountability you may eventually offer your assailant or adversary—just as a priest offers penance to sinners in the confessional. As penance offers actions and prayers to help the penitent to both show remorse AND accept accountability for his or actions in praise of God, so, too, must we be “priests to one another,” offer opportunities for change – as you would with a child.

 

  1. Allow for Time to Pass, i.e., GOD’s Time, not “our time,”, for a person to come to a place of reviewing the situation and his or her actions calmly and honestly. Here we must trust in Jesus’ and the Psalms’ constant reminder that God allows the sun to shine on the just and unjust, good and the wicked precisely to allow people to choose to evaluate the harm they’ve done to themselves and others.

 

  1. Even if your health and safety require the relationship to be severed, distant, or irreconcilable– Forgive in your heart, so you are FREE from reliving the hurt, the pain; free to move onward toward a wiser, humbler, more hopeful future.

 

  1. If the offender amends the situation and gets treatment for his or her behavior, if warranted, don’t try to reconcile the relationship right away. If asked, let the other person know that you continue to work on reconciliation but are not ready to remove restrictions on your relationship. Meanwhile, assure them you will pray for their working through their problem and taking responsibility for their actions.

Paulist Press Resources:

Healing Life’s Hurts by Dennis Linn and Matthew Linn

Don’t Forgive Too Soon by Dennis and Sheila Linn and Matthew Linn

Good Goats – Healing Our Image of God by Dennis and Sheila Linn and Matthew Linn

These and other titles are available at http://www.paulistpress.com/