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 18TH SUNDAY OF Ordinary Time

2 August 2020 by Father James DiLuzio CSP NOTE: Scripture Readings are cited below and featured in their entirety at the end of the homily

Reading 1  IS 55:1-3 Responsorial Psalm    PS 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-1 Reading 2 ROM 8:35, 37-39 Gospel MT MT 14:13-21

We are into our sixth month of the corona virus pandemic and (to quote the prophet Jeremiah) “our teeth are set on edge.”  We would love it if all our prayer, all the masses we’ve attended sitting in alternate pews, covering our faces with masks or, sharing in spiritual communion online—if all this prayer would keep us centered In Jesus. That is why we are here today, isn’t it? So that Jesus’ love for us and for the world will ground us in SERENITY to prevent us from caving into despair over difficult situations and/or difficult people.

We have so many spiritual resources at our disposal, and yet, reading or watching the news, can fill us with anxieties, fears, and hopelessness. Isaiah cried out “Come to the Waters!” but we feel our thirsts are not quenched.  Not because this pandemic prohibits Holy Water in our founts, but we let the troubles of our times diminish the indelible marks of our Baptisms. Today I propose we reclaim our Baptismal identities as God’s people, empowered by the Spirit to be Christ’s ministers to our wounded world. Today why not re-commit ourselves to God who offers us the equilibrium to be Christ-bearers—a people who, like our Savior offering a miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes to a hungry crowd, disciples who care enough to pay attention to our African American neighbors’ cries for justice to join them in establishing a more equitable nation?

Remember Jesus incarnated “Peace Be with You” during the great Roman occupation of half the European, North African, and Middle Eastern world.  Yes, like our nation today, Rome offered history a legacy of centuries of grandeur but centuries of great suffering and oppression, too. And in one among many of thousands of examples of following Jesus, of persevering faith in difficult times, sixteen hundred years after Our Lord walked upon this earth, one of his disciples, Saint Teresa of Avilla wrote:    Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing affright thee. All things are passing. Patience obtains all things. He who has God has everything – God alone suffices.”

Teresa wrote this in the era of the Reformation, of Religious Wars, Political Chaos–the European map was in free fall in her day–and the INQUISITION was reinvigorated to threaten almost everyone –including her!

I suggest we plead with God today for constancy amidst the social movements of our time, so we can collaborate for change.  We can say “Yes,” to gender equality, equal pay for equal work, and school systems and work environments that truly offer equal opportunity for all, and a justice and prison system that offers reform and rehabilitation instead of dehumanizing, soul crushing castigation.  

Everyone in church today and those participating at home have so many Spiritual Gifts bestowed upon us, but let’s admit it:  we do not access these graces enough.  Even though many of us are able to work amid this pandemic; many have resources enough to see us through better days, we don’t let the Spirit enliven us! In light of this Gospel of Jesus’ pity for the crowds, we must THINK of those whose workplaces are closed, who are relying on unemployment (which may soon end) or who are dependent on resources for basic needs that may be withheld. We must see their full humanity akin to our own that acknowledges their inner struggles–wrestling matches of pride with need, dignity with want and the corresponding judgments from within their own souls as well as those outward judgments, condescension and cruelty thrusted upon them by too many sectors of our  society.

Think of those who may have work but are clearly not in a “safe environment”” either due to lack of health precautions or because of sub-standard working conditions; jobs that our government labeled “essential” but exist in un-evaluated conditions. And think of those who are assumed guilty when attempting only to exercise their rights, both God-given and legal.  

The words of former congressman John Lewis’ post-mortem message continually ring in my ears about the terror of racism’s impact on his childhood— America’s racism had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.” Is not Jesus’ pity and mercy applicable to all those forced to live in a State of the Union such as that?  For what was experienced years ago by Congressman John Lewis continues to be experienced today by all too many people whose skin shades are of a darker hue than most of us sitting in these pews.

Today, Jesus’ pity must motivate us to pity and to the kind of action that mirrors miraculous multiplication of loaves.  We’re so used to making distinctions among peoples based on money, prestige, celebrity, cultural preferences and ethnicities that these way heavy on our national psyches. It’s time we reject this way of thinking! Jesus didn’t divide the crowds into “first class, business class” or any other class. He fed them all. We keep hearing the adage “We’re all in this together,” but, my dear friends, Jesus, the Eucharist and this Gospel have been telling us that for 2,020 years.

Eighteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 112

Reading 1  IS 55:1-3

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.

Responsorial Psalm    PS 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-1

R. (cf. 16) The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,    
    slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
    and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
    and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
    and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is just in all his ways
    and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
    to all who call upon him in truth.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading 2 ROM 8:35, 37-39

Brothers and sisters:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Alleluia MT

R.    Alleluia, alleluia.
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God
R.    Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT MT 14:13-21

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.  
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

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.”

Today’s Sunday Sermon – I decided to offer a sermon instead of a homily – can you tell the difference?

Sermon for 22nd Sunday in OT 2014

Readings: Jeremiah 20: 7 to 9 (“You duped me, O Lord . . . ); Psalm 63 (My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God); Rom 12: 1-2 (“be transformed by the renewal of your mind”); Matthew 16: 21-27 ( Jesus says “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”)

GET BEHIND ME SATAN! Such harsh words. Don’t you feel sorry for Peter? It only now occurs to me that Jesus isn’t name-calling here. He may not be pasting this label on Peter at all, but rather he’s calling out to the cosmos, defying evil just as he had done during the Temptations in the desert when he began his ministry.
Let’s examine why Peter’s words for Jesus’ safety and comfort trigger Jesus’ conscious battle with Satan and evil. To begin with, “comfort and safety,”’important as they are, do not comprise our highest values or our ultimate goals. Granted, a spirit of “comfort and safety” in God’s care for us is foundational for faith’s dynamism to grow but that is different for our financial and material security. We all depend upon that too much. It is clear the Holy Spirit’ thrives on appropriate risk-taking on God’s behalf with the risk Jesus took taking up the cross the greatest risk of all.
Taking risks on how we explain the mystery and power if the Cross, opening ourselves to deeper in our understanding of this incredible mystery, always beyond our complete comprehension, can provide a stronger faith foundation for us. After all, Peter misunderstood what the Cross could do. Who can ever fully fathom the wisdom of God? Yet, try we must.
Traditionally, the Church understood the Cross as Jesus making restitution for our sins to God the Father. The father required complete selflessness, total self-giving on Christ’s behalf in order to return the world to its proper balance. Jesus was understood as the sacrifice God demanded in order to forgive the world for its obstinacy, arrogance and defiance of God.
Using their Hebrew backgrounds, the biblical writers naturally equated Jesus with the Passover Lamb of Sacrifice whose blood alone could assuage God’s anger and God’s appetite for complete surrender—a complete surrender only the Christ could accomplish. Christ’s blood offered to God would then cover over and ultimately wash away the sins of humankind. Many Fathers and Doctors of the Church continued to use this analogy through millennia in attempts to understand the reason for the Cross and why Jesus had to suffer for our sake. Pastors and preachers continue to build on this analogy to this very day. And these concepts remain an important way of approaching the mysticism and mystery of the Cross beyond our understanding.
Still, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of courage continue to impact the collective human mind and the Church’s imagination over the centuries. Modern scholars of the past 100 years or so, and especially the last 30, have been inviting us to see new paradigms, new ways of understanding and appropriating the spiritual benefits of the Cross. They respect the Tradition and the tools for discovery the Spirit endowed each generation. But clearly, new generations don’t understand the old biblical language, its metaphors and allusions. Today’s theologians insist on asking the same questions former Christians and people from other faiths continue to ask. And, honestly,the question we, too, ask: “Why has God been presented as so blood-thirsty all these years?” The response: God is not what these metaphors imply. If Jesus is truly the full revelation of the Living God, must we not understand God through the lens of Jesus’ life? And that is what the new theology and new evangelization does. It looks to Jesus who lived his life with the people, for the people, forgiving the people. Just as God has done for centuries in other ways, the Cross invites the gift of free will to play out its consequences all the while offering not condemnation, but love, kindness and forgiveness. Thus the way of the Cross became the constant source of hope for positive change and transformation for all the world. Our theologians now say what many of us have felt or sensed all along: God did not demand Jesus’ sacrifice. Humanity did. God gave humankind what we wanted, what we demanded so that we might learn from the consequences of our actions. God has always done this and always will. Isn’t that how the Bible plays itself out? Isn’t that how our world plays out to this very day? So, in truth, God surrendered to humanity’s sins in the same way Jesus surrendered to the Cross.
Now we ask, “why does God surrender to us? Why does God put up with us?” ANSWER: Out of a wondrous Love that keeps on giving, a love that is constant and unrelenting. God surrenders to sin to keep the relationship going! For relationship is the heart of God. Indeed, God desires to embrace all that God creates. That is why Christianity insists God is Trinity- relationship itself. So, God surrenders in order to Love and forgive. It is time we accepted more fully how love and forgiveness are as inseparable as the Trinity itself: seemingly distinct one and the same entity.
We’re left with two questions: What sins are forgiven and how are they forgiven in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ? The sins are nothing more or less than every source of human evil: hatred, jealousies, fears and angers, selfishness—especially when manifested in violence, in “scapegoat-ing” through self-righteousness. Jesus takes on the Cross on God’s behalf to expose the sins of the world, to hold up the mirror to the damage that we do to ourselves, to others, to creation. The method of forgiveness begins by having us look upon the innocent man suffering cruelties of individuals, church and state, allowing ourselves to be filled with sorrow. From sorrow comes compassion, sensitivity to victims and to the sufferings we cause for ourselves and for our world. But more was and is needed because filled with such honesty and sorrow, who then could withstand the guilt, the shame ? The truth is we could not and we can’t. Indeed, the cross offers us plenty of opportunity for self-recrimination but , thank God, not God’s condemnation. God offers deliverance instead. We appropriate that deliverance when we choose to admit our guilt, expunge our sorrow by making amends to our neighbors and to creation because God forgives us even when no others will. Indeed, the Cross invites us to allow our angers and fears, guilt and shame to melt away, allowing God to transform our desires for hate and violence into compassion for ourselves and others. Because of God’s graciousness, we can claim there’s always another day, another chance for us and others to change. But those ideas are just sentiment unless we fully engage in sorrow for our selfish acts, sorrow for denying the centrality of God in our lives and in our world.
You see, for the salvation of the world, The Cross engages us in sorrow to bring us into joy. It’s what we demanded not knowing how much it’s what we truly needed. God could not let humanity have the last word , miss the crucial step of sorrow aware of the suffering we cause because we run from sorrow and don’t want to take responsibility for it. If we had the last word, the triumph of the cross would be our satisfaction to seek revenge for it. Out for blood, we would have perpetuated blame, making others suffer for sins we commit to keep us in a false sense of superiority and blamelessness. That trend is what keeps us in the ways of the world as they are rather than what they might be / could be. Our last word would have perpetuated the realities of the disciples as we found them on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, living in fear and cowardice, seeking to blame and condemn. But the Cross of Jesus brought about the Resurrection, not blame and recrimination. The Resurrected Jesus speaks words such as “peace be with you,” “your sins are forgiven,” and “now go and offer the world the same.” Thus, building upon the old and infusing new spirit for today, we must understand the Cross as evidence that God is always good —not blood thirsty. Therefore, God worthy of worship, awe, reverence and gratitude—not fear. And that is the ultimate message of the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.
GET BEHIND US, SATAN. It is time we began thinking in new ways, building on the old and learning from our mistakes. Inviting ourselves and others into new ways of approaching mystery, God’s majesty and the meaning of the Cross. We must engage ourselves in sharing the old truths in new and life-affirming ways to new generations of Christians and potential Christians. GET BEHIND US, SATAN, for unless you leave us, we continue to be short-sighted, to be self-centered, condemning others when we find ourselves coming up short, rather than transforming ourselves. GET BEHIND US, SATAN, for it is easier to blame than pick up the Cross to work for solutions. GET BEHIND US SATAN’ for we have been ungrateful for Jesus and what the Cross has done and still does for us. GET BEHIND US SATAN, don’t get in our way. For we want to approach the altar with humility today, not with arrogance but gratefulness, not with entitlement, but contrition. Our presence here today is yet another means of picking up the Cross to let Jesus empower us to be more sensitive, more patient, more hopeful, more courageous and generous. May this Eucharist offers us another chance to bathe ourselves first in sorrow and then in Thanksgiving to see things differently, our lives differently, to see and worship Jesus Christ in newer, stronger ways than we ever have before for our sake and for the sake of the world.