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.

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.

I Have A Dream – A Homily

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7 “The foreigners . . . I will bring to my holy mountain” Psalm 67: “O God, all the nations shall praise you.” Romans 11: 13-15; 29-32:  “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” Matthew 15: 21-28:  And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!”

I have a dream that from infancy through toddlerhood, preschool and beyond, in homes throughout the world, every child will be welcomed into a loving home.  I dream that each child will not only have bodily nourishment, love and care but grow up conscious of a great Being, the source of all life and all goodness.  I dream that each child will come to know the Creator God and be assured of God’s deep love for humanity and all creation.  I would want them to know, that no matter their family’s religion or philosophical point of view, that there is great joy in store for all who seek to know and understand God–the source of love and goodness, forgiveness and truth. And that even those who may not believe in God, they, too, come to know that there is such a thing as love, forgiveness, goodness and truth.

I hope that as they grow and learn and experience human failures, and learn of the tragic histories of war and violence, recognizing that even people of faith have used their religion or philosophies to tear the world apart, to harm people that were not like themselves, that they can appreciate and discern that TRUE RELIGION will always bring people together. Because TRUE religion insists that all are children of God.

My dream for Christian children, be they Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant, is that they realize that their Baptisms initiated them into Christ, and that faith in Jesus gives us a unique role to play in participating in God’s Spirit, highlighting the good, the true and the beautiful in others not like ourselves. Christianity offers great wisdom that acknowledges the fears that lead to sin, fears that prevent us from seeing the good in ourselves and others. Our faith in Jesus insists that we follow Jesus as the One who “did not come to condemn the world,” but to set it free from its compulsions, its greed and prejudices.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus’ interactions with a Canaanite Woman, a woman not of His Own Faith, but, still a person whom Jesus insisted –after evidencing his own unique sense of humor, wit and playfulness by dismissing her to confront his own disciples’ prejudices–that everyone deserves healing, because that is what God does: Heals, be it physical, emotional or spiritual healing.  And by offering the healing that each in his or her own way need, God offers HOPE, instilling Hope in every Human heart.  And so, Jesus attends to the pagan Canaanite woman’s hope for her daughter, recognizing everyone is called to hope for their sons and daughters. Blessed are the ones who know that!  Blessed are those who accept Hope in their hearts and refuse to default to anger, fear or selfishness. Blessed are those who see that the purpose of TRUE religion or true humanism is meant to cultivate Hope in all peoples, in all situations.

My dream is not my dream, really.  It is the Biblical Dream.  The recorded dreams and inspirations of Moses, Isaiah, Micah, and Jesus Himself that all may come to know God and with God and through God, to embrace THE GOLDEN RULE–DO UNTO OTHERS AS WE WOULD LIKE OTHERS TO DO TO US. For God made the world filled with diversity, and invites us to trust in that diversity, to find hope in that diversity, too.

Throughout His life, Christ engaged in discourse with people who thought differently than He thought, who lived differently than He lived.  He grew up in a world of Roman occupation without hating the Romans (although he could be critical of them).  He grew up in the world of Judaism and although he acknowledged the people’s sins, He loved them all.

May our prayers and Eucharist today empower us to strive to uncover the Hope beyond human failures, beyond humanity’s penchant for blame, beyond everybody’s susceptibility to hate, to prejudice and the illusions of comfort they offer at others’ expense. Christ Jesus came to serve and save, not condemn nor destroy.  His dream must become our dream—for only when our dreams are aligned with His can this Eucharist produce the effects for which it was intended from the beginning.  As the Word and Eucharist offer Hope to us, healing to us, may it empower us to offer hope to our world.

Charlottesville, VA, Saint Peter, You and Me – A Homily

Homily for Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

1 Kings 19:13-19

Gospel of Matthew 14: 22-33

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm

 

Some people shout but never say anything. Some people scream, but never learn to speak. Some people hate without ever thinking why, and how they came to hate another person or group. Others live by a rule that say, “Fire, Ready, Aim!” Our nation and our world is becoming more impulsive and compulsive—people acting from gut feelings, fears and prejudice without reflection, certainly without prayer–thinking in very limited terms, self-serving terms. More and more people are losing a sense of the bigger picture—a larger, wider, more embracing approach to life and its diversity of peoples.

This weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent example of the evil that cultural, ethnic and economic isolation and impetuosity create. What motivated people with a white supremacist perspective to travel from Ohio and other places throughout the country to come to this Virginia town to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee?  Since the ethnic and prejudicial killings over the past several years in our country, were there sufficient Town Meetings, Conferences, Dialogues from coast to coast to dissect the complexity of these and related issues to prevent more violence?  In fairness, the Charlottesville Mayor and Council did conduct town meetings to let people air their perspectives and their feelings before taking down its Confederate Flag and deciding on moving Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Statues into museums which could better contextualize these historical figures’ characters and life choices than displays in public parks allow.  But perhaps there was insufficient outreach and dialogue with and about the Supremacist Organization before their rally was allowed in the name of “Free Speech.”  Was there sufficient and significant preparation conducted by the protestors and police prior to the event—and, equally important, because our nation has been crying out for more Town Meetings, have there been (and will there be) significant number of meetings in churches, synagogues, mosques and council halls to address the seeds of hatred, prejudice coast-to-coast?  Why or why not?  Everybody knows “Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”

We all fail to initiate and perpetuate the kind of dialogue about morals, logic, faith, culture, diversity that this Age requires. We fail, in part, because we rely upon ourselves alone without the patience to prayerfully allow God to work through all our thoughts and feelings before we act. For example, thankfully, there were many protestors responding to the KKK/Supremacist March, but I wonder if instead of posters of condemnation there were also (and there may have been) placards stating things like and “God loves us all,” “All Nations Shall Come Together,” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

 Not that by that time, on that day, it could have made much difference with the Hate march.  But if there were such ideas floating around in the protest, there would at least be some clarification of the kind of thoughtful, preventative action Christianity call us to embrace.

How much, for example, did anyone at that march really know about Robert E. Lee?  I had to do some research myself.  I was surprised to read he was against slavery and against violence.  Against his better judgment he joined the Confederate Army to, in his mind, protect his native Virginians.  He could have been known for pleading for more dialogue among Virginia’s Legislature and with President Lincoln and his Cabinet, more caution on behalf of the Southern States before cessation.  Instead, he compromised his conscience and his deeper values, he didn’t choose to act with a bigger picture in mind.  Lee’s story and conflicts could be better known, better discussed and could lead to more self-scrutiny for our world today, but alas, as in the times of Jesus, only some, not all, are willing to join in the conversation.  Many won’t ever, many don’t, but who do we say we are?  What do we think the proper response of faith is?

Now what does this have to do with today’s Bible Readings?  Everything!  In 1 Kings, we find Elijah hiding in mountain cave.  More dialogue with the previous passages of Scripture is needed to understand the context.  He’s hiding because he acted impulsively, filled with his own zeal for the Lord, he slaughtered all the prophets of Baal, the pagan cult of Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s King Ahab. The king and queen now seek the prophet’s life.  Of course, Elijah expects the Lord to come in Elijah’s own image –with the wrath of whirlwind, an earthquake, in fire.  Instead, God arrives in “a tiny whispering sound” through which Elijah listens and defers more fully to God’s counsel, becoming more rooted in God’s love for him rather than his own zeal to love the Lord more. This conversation results in Elijah being prepared for heaven.  His ministry is over. God wants him to ordain a new prophet in his stead, Elisha.  Then Elijah is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.  Something about prudence, patience, and repentance seems to be the thought for the day.

Now let’s look at the Matthew’s Gospel: What made Peter so impetuous as to try and walk on water to Jesus? Was he ready?  Had he fully acknowledged Jesus as both human and Divine?  Jesus walking on Water was manifesting His Divinity, His Union with God to be in command of Nature as well as the source of life for human souls.  Obviously, Peter wasn’t ready; he didn’t understand this nor the degree to which he had to focus on Jesus rather than the raging wind.   Thankfully, Jesus knew that.  He knows we aren’t often ready to let faith’s wisdom sustain us, so he extends his hand.  However, what if Peter were less anxious to act and more open to simply let Jesus come to him?   What if he chose to surrender to the bigger truth that “God loves us First” and that God will act “First” — through our conscience, through our prayer.  Patiently allowing our conscience and our consciousness to be centered in God makes us more fittingly responsive to the evils of the world, more preventative, less reactionary.  Jesus was coming to Peter and all the disciples in the boat. Could / should Peter have waited?  What might have occurred had Peter allowed Jesus to make his point as God and Man first, allowing the Spirit to seep more fully in his mind and body and find more communion with the disciples before boldly reacting and presenting Jesus with his own “state of emergency?”

All this is “food for thought,” regarding our degrees of dependence upon Christ as we address the problems of our times.  One thing for sure, we must speak out against evil, hatred and violence, but how we do it, and more importantly, the extent to which we let the Spirit move us to daily efforts of prevention–THIS is the question we must address today, tomorrow and the next day.  Jesus came, He continues to come and thankfully, we arrived today to let his Word penetrate us again and this Eucharist to nourish our conscience, bodies and spirits.  Allowing Jesus to come to us first, to allow him to do what He Will Do for Us first before we act, react, respond –knowing that we must put our faith into action—can and will make all the difference in our responses to the evils that abound in our nation and in the world.

July 16th Homily: Down and Dirty

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Readings:  Isaiah 55: 10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13: 1-23:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path . . .”

In the time of Jesus, the world was primarily agrarian. Towns like Nazareth were surrounded by farmland, wheat and barley fields and more.  Cities, too, had sections for growing crops within or adjacent to them. Not too long ago, even New York City had fields of crops on Manhattan Island to say nothing of the farm communities that was once Long Island. How well do the spiritual analogies to sower and seed resonate with us today? For many these images exist in our minds and imaginations–memories of our trips beyond the confines our homes in cities or suburbs.  There’s a danger in those associations, however, when these thoughts and images become nostalgic–memories of history, glory days of the past; sadly then,  so, too, Jesus, forever linked to “long ago and far away.”

Part of the role discipleship for each and every Christian is to re-phrase, re-point the vocabulary and images of the Bible into contemporary ones, as Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers once wrote: “If Christ is to be to us a savior, we must find him here, now, and where we are, in this age of ours also; otherwise he is no Christ, no Saviour, no Immanuel, no ‘God With Us.’ “

So, let’s translate Jesus’ words with some more common, everyday analogies:

·       “The Seed on the path which the devil takes it away”:  A toddler plays with a favorite toy. Parents, Godparents, Aunt and Uncles savor this gift:  How well it suits this baby!  See how his or her personality and talents are beginning to emerge. But one day another toddler comes to play. This one has a different toy. Oh, no! Our little darling abandons the gift, that wonderful, unique self-revelatory toy—with so many games and instruments yet to explore!  With chagrin-no, disgust-we look on as our son or daughter grabs the inferior toy and fighting ensues amongst the babes. The “best toy,” “The best gift” gets tossed aside.

·       Then we have “Seed on rocky ground”:  We come to Mass and make a brief but superficial connection between Jesus’ life and ours.  We find ourselves too tired to keep the connection going.  Our expectations about prayer become too elaborate – a kind of “all or nothing at all.”  Forgetting that Saints and Prophets reminded us in many different ways: “It is absurd to say you do not have the time to pray, as it would be to say that you have no time to breathe. Pray when you rise and dress, pray when you are on the way to work, or to your place of business, or on your return home or before you go to bed.” (That’s another quote from Paulist Founder Isaac Hecker.)

·       “Seed on thorny ground” is evidenced in the growing boy or girl who enjoyed bible stories but now prefers Star Wars, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Marvel Comics.  We must ask, “Will no one help this child make connections between these stories and great spiritual truths?” For that matter, who will enlighten the adult who sees no connection between being a Yankee Fan and applying good sportsmanship and team work at school or work or within his or her social network?  And, of course, there are the thorns of anxieties and fears that could motivate prayer, seek counsel, work themselves out through conversations with friends offering comfort and other perspectives, but, alas, sometimes each of us prefer the “funk.” Yes, even we ignore the many options for healthy release.  How often we forget Jesus is everywhere, including other human beings!

To all of these, the “Rich Soil,” of course provides the antidote: On “Rich Soil,” Someone begins to sing, clap hands and dance, distracting  the violent toddlers from the toy of contention.

On “Rich Soil,” the family that prays together – but not with rigidity—not by insisting that it’s always the after-dinner-rosary, but expanding prayer to discussions about God in our lives, or favorite bible stories that link to what we’re going through today, or the wonders of what the school kids are learning in science or in Art and sees this as extension of prayer—this family stays together.

On “Rich Soil,” the thorns of negative thinking, constant criticism, or compulsion to “keep up with the Joneses” fades away.   On “Rich Soil,” Christians enjoy religious dialogue—we don’t shelter ourselves within the Church but understand the importance of “coming and going” as in Psalm 110: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. . . The Lord will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” –  Words that show how the dynamic Isaiah described of rain and snow returning to the heavens through precipitation applies to us receiving and getting caught up in grace, increasing our intimacy with Christ as He feeds us and draws us closer to Him, moment to moment, day after day.”

In “Rich Soil,” every Christian humbly acknowledges “I am all these soils—WE are all these soils.”  In so doing, we trust that Jesus cultivate us, gives us the appropriate toy, sings the song we need to hear, offers the prayer we need to pray – if not today, then tomorrow or the next day. When we’re in the rich space, the “right place,” there’s comfort in admitting God’s timing is not our timing.  The Holy Spirit is at work within us and in the world.

Pope Saint John XXIII is quoted as saying, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do”—implying, of course, that “nothing is impossible for ‘God With Us.’  Today’s Word and Eucharist offers yet another opportunity to make all things possible as we hold on to Jesus’ words: “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you.”  May we not take them for granted!

 Today’s Scripture Readings may be found at:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071617.cfm

Sunday Homily 9 July 2017

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Zechariah 9: 9-10; Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

What is humility? It is GRATITUDE for life itself! JOY in being alive. Humility is Gratefulness for the gift of work—whether fulfilling in the moment or not. It sees every opportunity as a stepping stone to cherish, an opportunity to learn. “What is” – is enough to be good for each day.

Humility levels the playing field. It looks beyond position, social influence, prestige or income. It doesn’t judge. Humility defers to Hope. It keeps its sights on God — eschewing evaluation, judgement and critique on the mortal soul for the sake of the immortal soul. Saint Paul says, “abandon the flesh!” What he means by “flesh” is “self-interest above all other concerns.” His Letter to the Romans insists that this self-absorption constitutes hostility toward God. To live in selfishness is to refuse to accept why God made us and why we are here. Humility is the ability to see ourselves and others beyond our wants, our needs and preferences, beyond our assessment of “friend” or “foe.” To be humble, as Saint Paul says, is to “thrive in the Spirit!”

Sometimes it takes tragedies to bring us humility. War and conflict can make us bitter, but in faith, they humble us—making us ever mindful of human weakness, cruelty and sin with a desire to be done with it, once for all. Humility thinks not of the past but of the future. It releases us from the hell of hate and fear. During a time of civil and religious violence in India, a Hindu cried to Gandhi, “I’m going to Hell! I killed a child!” Gandhi asked, “Why did you do this?” He replied, “Because they killed my son! The Muslims killed my son!” “I know a way out of Hell,” said Gandhi. “Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.”

Examples of this kind of humility can be found in our recent history when, in the 1990’s, Churches and Synagogues sponsored refugee Muslim and Orthodox Christian families fleeing the genocide of the Bosnian/Herzegovina/Croatian/Serbia wars fueled by the atrocities of racist Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Just as today, even amidst our cantankerous Immigration Policy debate, Churches and Synagogues are welcoming Serbian and Middle Eastern refugees with teams of faithful people offering room and board, language and technical skills to resettle here. And what have Americans in common with these families—neither language nor faith nor customs– except our common humanity? This is humility in action; evidence of grace.

Gandhi knew that humility is seeing another as a human being, and nothing more. Zechariah knew it.  Jesus knows it. Then, and only then, do we begin to respect what makes us different. But the difference remains secondary to the knowledge that because of the sins we have in common, we must transcend them lest we perpetuate them. Humility offers hope for the future. In the Second World War, two individuals from warring nations, decided to initiate a new beginning:

“A soldier wrote to a German mother: ‘As a member of a Commando unit raiding a village in France, it became my duty to kill your son… I earnestly ask your forgiveness, for I am, after all, called to be a Christian. . . I hope I may, some day after the war is over, talk with you face to face.’ The German mother received the note several months later, and she wrote to the English soldier in turn: ‘I find it in my heart to forgive you, even you who killed my son, for I too am a Christian . . . If we are living after the war is over I hope you will come to Germany to visit me, that you may take the place in my home, if only for a time, of my son whom you killed.’’

Indeed, Humility is seeing another as a human being, and nothing more. This is the only way the Vision of Zechariah, which is also Jesus’ vision, becomes a reality: when “the warrior’s bow is banished, and (the King) proclaims peace to the nations; his dominion stretching from sea to shining sea. Jesus invites us to accept this vision as our own. It’s a cross, but he bears the weight. And the Good News is we don’t need to wait for a war or tragedy to take it up. All we need be is humble.

Jesus doesn’t offer us the Eucharist because we deserve it. He looks beyond our pasts–good, bad and indifferent as they are—and sees human beings in need of Saving. Jesus knows our human hearts are prone to self-interests–be it our own, our families’, our nation’s or that of our Church. So, he invites us to come “down to earth,” offering us spiritual food that our bodies must digest. His Eucharistic meal invites us to keep our sights on the horizon. Only an honest, humble stance will create the gratitude needed for this meal to have its full effect. Otherwise we tend to relive the past, the blame, the regrets, or indulge today without any thought of tomorrow. As recipients of His Eucharist he asks us to see ourselves and to see others in the same way: dependent on God and one another. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Homily on Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 22: 15-21 for Sunday, October 19

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday OR 2014;

Rev. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.   (Homily based on Biblical Readings to be found at the end of this post.)

In the beginning, God created human beings as social beings, inter-dependent and eventually, capable of abstract thinking.  This gift motivated us to seek wisdom, search for meaning, foster understanding and seek God.  We Christians understand God as Relationship itself—an essential interdependent primacy of Father, Son and Spirit – a God who for no other reason except love—frivolous love, magnanimous love, relentless and unconditional love—places RELATIONSHIP as the highest value of life.  Therefore Saint Paul was inspired to write in his Letter to the Romans chapter 8: that NOTHING “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  “Nothing” is very important because it includes all of our sins and the sins of the world.  By putting relationship first above all things, God’s spirit is the foundation of Hope, the inspiration for Hope with Jesus as its ultimate and complete human expression. So why do we need Caesar?  With Christ at the center of our lives, why do we need government?  Obviously, not everyone centers his or her life in God and for God.  Not everyone is grateful for life let alone grateful to God for it.  We need government because sin is everywhere rupturing relationships — relationships with one another, among nations, with creation and with God.

Make no mistake:  “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” is not about the need for separation of Church and State.  Instead, Jesus’ statement is a warning that while we do need governments, we need to keep the state’s claim on us in perspective.   True, without government, we the people of the world would devolve into an anarchy of “every man for himself, every woman for herself.”  We need government because not everyone takes the Ten Commandments to heart, nor accepts the Beatitudes as his or her life-time goal.

Furthermore, we need governments because, as biblical history makes clear, human beings intrinsically insist on having figure heads, spokespeople and leaders. It’s in our relational DNA. So we’ve learned from the time of the Judges and Kings (from Gideon to David to Zedekiah) God can and does use individual leaders of peoples—emperors, governors, senators—for God’s good purposes.  And God uses secular as well as faith-centered leaders.   Isaiah the prophet highlighted this fact in celebrating the pagan Cyrus of Persia’s decision to allow peoples exiled by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonian to return to their native lands including the Israelites and Judah-ites to the land of their ancestors.  Still, in the course of human events, wise and benevolent acts on the part of world leaders doesn’t seem to happen very often.  Clearly, each individual’s capabilities as leader are limited just as we, too, are limited.  The lesson here is clear: the centrality of God-centered life.  It offers the only genuine hope for us, whether our leaders seek Divine guidance or not.

Thus today’s Scriptures invite us to recognize that part of the Church’s hope for this world is our participation in government.  To give God the glory that is due, we must support our local communities and continue to cultivate and improve our personal and national outlooks.  For God is all in all.  The faithful must keep up with the signs of the times, read the newspapers, watch a variety of news programs, and discuss the issues respectfully and lovingly with people who hold different points of view from your own. And when you do, be mindful that a human being is far more than an expression of a political theory, an economic entity or a mere consumer of goods.

So, by all means, register, vote and encourage others to do so. But as you do, register this:  you are not voting for Messiah. We already have one.  The more we cultivate continual worship of the Living God in our hearts, minds bodies, the more we seek out friendships beyond our “comfort zones,” Christ will reconcile the haves and the have-nots, the weak and strong.   Through Christ, in Christ and with Christ, you and I will find that to be fully human is to celebrate the Divine Spark in all of us.  All of us.  Make sure our leaders know that. And isn’t that what this and each and every Eucharist is about?

FYI:  Here are the Biblical Readings:

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 145

Reading 1                                                                                                                                                          IS 45:1, 4-6

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus,
whose right hand I grasp,
subduing nations before him,
and making kings run in his service,
opening doors before him
and leaving the gates unbarred:
For the sake of Jacob, my servant,
of Israel, my chosen one,
I have called you by your name,
giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other.

[45:1] Anointed: in Hebrew, mashiah, from which the word “Messiah” is derived; from its Greek translation, Christos, we have the title “Christ.” Applied to kings, “anointed” originally referred only to those of Israel, but it is here given to Cyrus because he is the agent of the Lord.

* [45:2] Bronze doors: those defending the city gates of Babylon.

* [45:6] The nations will come to know that Israel’s God is the only God; cf. also vv.2025.

Responsorial Psalm                                                                                                   PS 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10

R/ (7b) Give the Lord glory and honor.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
awesome is he, beyond all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are things of nought,
but the LORD made the heavens.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
Bring gifts, and enter his courts.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
Worship the LORD, in holy attire;
tremble before him, all the earth;
say among the nations: The LORD is king,
he governs the peoples with equity.
R/ Give the Lord glory and honor.
* [Psalm 96] A hymn inviting all humanity to praise the glories of Israel’s God (Ps 96:13), who is the sole God (Ps 96:46). To the just ruler of all belongs worship (Ps 96:710); even inanimate creation is to offer praise (Ps 96:1113). This Psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with Is 4055, as does Ps 98. Another version of the Psalm is 1 Chr 16:2333.

* [96:4] For references to other gods, see comments on Ps 58 and 82.

  1. [96:1]Ps 98:1;Is 42:10.
  2. [96:3]Ps 98:4;105:1.
  3. [96:4]Ps 48:2;95:3145:3.
  4. [96:5]Ps 97:7;115:48Is 40:171 Cor 8:4.
  5. [96:8]Ps 29:2.
  6. [96:10]Ps 75:4;93:1.

Reading 2                                                                                                                                                   1 THES 1:1-5B

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians
in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace.
We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers,
unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
before our God and Father,
knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God,
how you were chosen.
For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

* [1:1] On the address, see note on Rom 1:17.

* [1:3] Faith…love…hope: this, along with 1 Thes 5:8, is the earliest mention in Christian literature of the three “theological virtues” (see 1 Cor 13:13). The order here stresses eschatological hope, in line with the letter’s emphasis on the Lord’s second, triumphal coming, or parousia (1 Thes 1:102:12193:134:135:115:23).

* [1:6] Imitators: the Pauline theme of “imitation” (see 1 Thes 2:141 Cor 4:1611:1;2 Thes 3:9) is rooted in Paul’s view of solidarity in Christ through sharing in Jesus’ cross and in the Spirit of the risen Lord.

  1. [1:1]Acts 15:40;16:131917:14152 Thes 1:12.
  2. [1:2]2 Thes 1:3.
  3. [1:4]2 Thes 2:13.
  4. [1:5]Acts 13:52;17:19.

Gospel                                                                                                                                                                MT 22:15-21

The Pharisees went off
and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion,
for you do not regard a person’s status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

* [22:1522] The series of controversies between Jesus and the representatives of Judaism (see note on Mt 21:2327) is resumed. As in the first (Mt 21:2327), here and in the following disputes Matthew follows his Marcan source with few modifications.

* [22:15] The Pharisees: while Matthew retains the Marcan union of Pharisees and Herodians in this account, he clearly emphasizes the Pharisees’ part. They alone are mentioned here, and the Herodians are joined with them only in a prepositional phrase of Mt 22:16. Entrap him in speech: the question that they will pose is intended to force Jesus to take either a position contrary to that held by the majority of the people or one that will bring him into conflict with the Roman authorities.

* [22:16] Herodians: see note on Mk 3:6. They would favor payment of the tax; the Pharisees did not.

* [22:17] Is it lawful: the law to which they refer is the law of God.

* [22:19] They handed him the Roman coin: their readiness in producing the money implies their use of it and their acceptance of the financial advantages of the Roman administration in Palestine.

* [22:21] Caesar’s: the emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37). Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar: those who willingly use the coin that is Caesar’s should repay him in kind. The answer avoids taking sides in the question of the lawfulness of the tax. To God what belongs to God: Jesus raises the debate to a new level. Those who have hypocritically asked about tax in respect to its relation to the law of God should be concerned rather with repaying God with the good deeds that are his due; cf. Mt 21:4143.