Homily for the First Sunday of Advent Year B 2014 Fr. James DiLuzio

The Christmas songs are playing in the radio and the stores are celebrating already, beckoning our purchases to help us get in the holiday mood. Moreover, it seems our entire economy is dependent on buying Christmas gifts – an annual activity that has, in effect, become our patriotic duty. If our merchants don’t get in the black, if they are left with too much inventory at the end of the year, than the economy slumps and allegedly, everyone is in trouble. Indeed, some of theses merchants are our Church members and friends; family members are store clerks and sales people in the malls. And then, of course, there are the charities with a last appeal for their end of the year budgets. Even if we don’t have the money at hand, we feel obligated to take out the charge cards and run. Moreover, if we are honest, our feelings of self worth are often tied to gift-giving and receiving. Added to this, many of us cling to unrealistic expectations of what Christmas can accomplish in us and in others No wonder Advent and Christmas bring anxiety and frustration. While Spirituality invites us to simplify our lives, to do with less so others who have less may be brought up to our standards, we can feel discouraged, that we are letting many people down if we don’t buy enough gifts and treats to keep the economy going. We want to cultivate spiritual values, explore the values of patience and the benefits of waiting, of delayed gratification at the same time we feel obligated to follow the crowd, summon the cheer, to feel what we are supposed to feel rather than address how we truly feel. The office parties have already started. What are we to do?

To start, we trust in our biblical heritage and allow the past to inform our present. We turn to our ancestors in faith. Exiled by the Babylonians, the people of the tribes of Judah were filled with anxieties and conflicted feelings. They found themselves once again strangers in a strange land. Their beliefs and customs were so very different from that of their neighbors and the societies of Babylon and Persia (today’s Afghanistan, Iraq & Iran. The prophet Isaiah and his disciples articulate a prayer on their behalf : “Why do you let us wander, O Lord . . . for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” Did God truly abandoned them OR have they truly abandoned God? The answer is neither: God never abandons His own. Yes, the people are in exile, but didn’t God send Prophets to them? Yes! ISAIAH was there for them. And don’t forget Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Malachi and all the rest. And they had not abandoned God. They brought their questions and expressed their feelings to God- which is exactly what believers are invited to do. And along with their questions, they pondered life’s meaning and purpose, they pondered God’s plans.

Wisdom of prophets and our own human experience confirm that God’s most precious gift to us beyond life itself is free will. It’s the only gift that distinguishes humanity from all other creatures. FREE WILL is the gift that allows us, as the prophets say, “to wander as we will.” And so as Advent begins, faith invites us to make choices that bring us closer to the Spirit of the Living God. We need to set aside time to ponder and pray about what that might mean.

First we must admit that many of our problems and sufferings are of our own making. That includes our Advent anxieties and Christmas dilemmas. Humbly acknowledging our contributions to our own anxieties IS the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom also invites us to come down to earth and acknowledge our dependence upon God. That kind of humility aligns us with all living things who share with us the very air we breathe and water we drink. Never alone but always interconnected with the beauty, majesty and mystery of creation. That’s the mindset that cultivates A “Mindfulness of God in All Things.” That’s the spirit we need for Advent, Christmas and all year round. Seeing a connection between our life stories and that of Jesus will accomplish that, too. And so with these truths in focus I’ve prepared a retreat for you Sunday night to assist you in cultivating humility and awe and wonder in God’s presence, whatever your circumstances, whatever you are feeling these days. And I have tools to offer you that will empower you to see Jesus’ story as your story and your story as His because of God’s care for you and our world.

I’ll start by affirming God cares about you and your feeling — even your discomforting feelings, your sad feelings, your feelings of resentment and hurt and angers. People may not respond well to them, you may not even accept them with in yourself, but God does. Jesus does. It is why he took on the fullness of our humanity to be with us in and through all feelings and corresponding thoughts – not to judge or condemn but to transform them through his loving care, understanding and His wisdom to fortify and alter whatever kind of wisdom we may or may not have cultivated on our own. If you chose not to come to the retreat Sunday night, at least now I am leaving you with this thought: how much God cares about you and your feelings and the situations you find yourself in. And believing how much God cares about you makes all the difference in the choices you make for yourself and the care you may potentially demonstrate toward others. It will make a difference in how you experience Advent and celebrate Christmas.
We prayed with Psalm 80 today: (I’ll paraphrase in more conventional language): make us humble and contrite, O God, so we may and stand in continual awe of YOU who cares for us. Has God abandoned us? Certainly not! Has JESUS abandoned us? JESUS has given us His Word and His sacraments and one another. Jesus has bestowed the Holy Spirit. We are his Church and we are here amidst the malls, the decorated and un-decorated homes and the stacks of bills. DON’t Pass us by or takes the gift of faith for granted. The signs of the times require faith. They require a commitment to Christ and time spent cultivating that relationship to put all of our relationships in proper perspective. Commitment opens our eyes wide to see the many ways JESUS Comes to us, has come to us, will come to us in all hours of the day and night just as He comes to us now in this Word and EUCHARIST so he will come at the end of time. Psalm 80 also articulated this question: “Would that you might meet us doing right, O God! Oh, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” In what state of mind and heart do want to be this Advent, this Christmas and beyond. You have choices before you. Will you choose to participate in the parish Advent retreat and / or spend time in private prayer or other spiritual pursuits? What will they be? One thing for sure, we all need spiritual support to engage in our culture lest our culture engage us in what is beyond our control, in all that is material alone, gratification that is fleeting and disposable like the Christmas trees drying out on the curbs on or after New Year’s Day.

The choice is before you. You have chosen Word and EUCHARIST today. They are God’s gifts of comfort and joy to you in the here and now. If you would like to perpetuate these spiritual gifts and cultivate them throughout your nights and days, make choices like retreat and the many spiritual opportunities offers you here at Saint Sebastian’s in the weeks and months ahead. To use the popular marketing analogy: You contribute to the Church with time, talent and treasure. Do you want more for your money or less? And like our retreat, today’s EUCHARIST is here for the taking and all are invited to see and hear what God has in store for you now and always!

Would you like to hear a recording of excerpts from my Luke Live! Retreats? You’ll find an order form at

http://www.lukelive.com/luke-live-cd/

MP3 available in 2015

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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.

Homily for Sunday, October 12, 2014

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time 2014
Rev. James DiLuzio CSP

Reading 1: Isaiah 25: 6-10A; Psalm 23; Reading 2: Philemon 4: 12-14; 19-20
Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14 (Printed Below for your convenience)

No One comes to the Table it seems. Not Congress, Not Business, Economists or Nations. 90 % of Scientists agree there is a human footprint on global warming; last month thousands joined a march here in NYC and around the world yet energy companies and many politicians continue to say, “You fools! Nothing is wrong. No one, no policy, no system needs to change!”

What are the signs of our times? No one comes to the table. The song of our age is that there’s no dialogue, only judgment. No self-scrutiny, only ideology. Look at the Sunni-Shi’ite warfare. No! No one comes to the table but each to his own (or her own) home defiant, unmoved and scared. Good News is often portrayed as Bad News; and Bad News is hailed as irreversible. No harmonies–no counterpoint to blend into a discernable tune. Factions fracture the landscape of Church and State, Foreign Policies and National Interests.

In humility we might acknowledge that one part of the problem, one small but significant piece of the puzzle came from the realm of Institutional Religion. For centuries, religious leaders and preachers assure the crowds of the rightness of their respective faiths, but failed to continually counsel charity, compassion and love of others beyond ourselves. Indeed, although charity may start at home it can stay there with no place to go! How else could family members disown family members who marry people from other faiths or leave one tradition for another? Why else would friendships and associations dissolve when some person suddenly believes or acts differently, or develops a new set of politics or priorities? Alas, global issues are global because they remain rooted in deeply personal, familial conflicts.

What’s the antidote? Where is the adhesive to bring families, religions and nations together? Have we given up on cultivating a cohesive enterprise to change the signs of the time or let fresh air, tone and spirit soothe despairing souls? Indeed, the biblical statement seems truer than ever: “And we like sheep have gone astray”, (1 Peter 2:25) Yes, that is how it seems, but, in truth, there is a solution to our isolation—a way far and beyond the status quo. It is this table. For here is a table to which everyone is invited. What’s more, the ONE who serves at this table will revive our spirits and shepherd of souls. The Kingdom is “Here Comes Everybody,” and “Everyone belongs!” But take care! He may only shepherd those willing to share His vision and to follow His example.

The Kingdom offers an antidote to rigidity by bending the rules of cult and tribe and institution through its invitation to a wiser, more all-consuming way of living—calling its members to collaborate for peace, mercy, justice –to find common ground in our common humanity because our God became fully human in Christ Jesus. If we are truly confident that Christ is with us, we can and must encounter all others who abide by different scriptures, traditions experiences, politics and beliefs and engage in collaboration on all levels, irrespective of our differences.

A challenging proposition. No wonder not all accept the invitation. Furthermore, all who come may not participate as fully as they could because we may not appreciate the wealth of spirit, wisdom and courage bestowed upon us in Word and Eucharist. What opportunities these provide! Possibilities, positive choices for today, tomorrow and the next day. To ignore these is disastrous. Such was the fate of the poorly dressed guest; better he had not shown up at all than to realize all the opportunities he had forfeited. So we must take care not to be neglectful as he was. We must not fall into the trap to look but not see; hear but neither listen nor understand, nor share in Word and Eucharist without full participation or conviction. (It’s not that God will throw us out! But that when we leave we will not have achieved the purpose for our visit! That’s the meaning of the parable—NOT that God is vengeful, vindictive and unforgiving. Remember the Bible used FEAR as its teaching tool because that was the custom in ancient civilizations—Jewish and Gentile both. Always when engaging in the Scriptures, we must go beyond this “fear veneer” to find the true meaning of a parable or passage, however frightful the image or language invoked. The meaning is this: appreciate your faith, engage in it and practice it– especially with those who don’t. Yes, all are invited but with our words and actions we must give them a reason to attend!

Jesus tells us “The kingdom of Heaven is in the invitation– a gracious invitation to a table filled with – as Isaiah prophesied – “rich food and choice wines.” And beneath the sumptuous offerings, that table is sturdy and strong, wide and expansive with an infinite number of table leafs and extenders. So: we’ve been invited and we have come. How shall we make this Mass most profitable?

First, allow yourself to be healed. Let your mind and heart experience the blessed assurance that God cares for you, cares about how you feel, what your circumstances are and makes no judgment on the degree of light and shadow in your heart at this time. Accept that God accepts us as we are, where we are and be filled with gratitude. Only gratefulness for such unconditional love can inspire us to let the Lord move us where He will and empower us to offer His unconditional love to others.
Second, recognize that this table/ our table is made of the wood of the cross. It’s the wood of compassion; a cross created to inspire– pity, empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a table and it is a cross—both—to remind us that the feast has a price; the Eucharist does feed us and heal us, but it challenges us, too. The cross reminds us of REALITY: that engaging in charity for mutual benefit is painful; abandoning our illusions can make us feel week and discouraged; cultivating patience for dialogue within and among families, business and politics is exacting and exhausting. Still, the Eucharist assures us that all things are possible with God and with pain comes gain! Spiritual realities can and will address the earthly ones as we participate in ongoing dying and rising. Believe more fully in this process! Cultivate it and it will cultivate in you hope and make of us a revived, energized and courageous people.

Third, be courageous and pick up this cross in any way, shape or form that you know how. “Life is short” and “opportunity is not a lengthy visitor!” You have come to the table of Word and Eucharist. Taste and See what God has in store for you today and tomorrow, and through you, and through us—all of us—salvation for the world.

Reading 1 IS 25:6-10A
On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.
Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
R/ (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Reading 2 PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel MT 22:1-14
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”