Know the Past to Improve the Future: Knowing Jesus

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Lectionary: 101

Reading 1 Ez 2:2-5  Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!  And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them.they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4   Our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.

Reading 2       2 COR 12:7-10  :     for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel  MK 6:1-6   Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”  So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Two men rummaged through the remains of their deceased Uncle’s estate.  They happened upon a stack of canvas paintings, unframed, piled high in a corner.

“What a waste of money, buying all this junk” said the older brother to the younger. “He was a foolish man.”

“You didn’t know him as I knew him,” said the younger.  “He enjoyed supporting the locals, the shops that were on the verge of closing. Maybe some of these are worth something. I’m going to have them appraised.”

His brother retorted: “Don’t waste your time or your money. Not much of an inheritance. That’s all I can say,”

In time, the paintings were appraised.  Alas, all worthless, except for one. It brought a great price.

“Here’s your share,” said the younger to the older.

“It’s yours,” said the other. “I didn’t want any part of it.”

“If you knew him, you would know he wanted us both to have something from him. He was a very generous fellow.  Take it.”

He does.

The crowd in Jesus’ home town didn’t really know him.  They couldn’t have. Evidently, they didn’t take the time to know his story – Angels at his birth, light and revelations at his Baptism, conflict with religious authorities through which he stood his ground and healings that occurred through him in Capernaum and other villages south of the lake.

What’s more, they didn’t know their own stories very well.  Not necessarily their personal stories, but their collective stories; stories from the Torah and the prophets:  Remembrances of things past meant to inform the present.  Why were these stories recorded on scrolls if not for edification, for learning, for hope?  Inspiration and Wisdom to be gleaned from reviewing the conflicts among the great patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings; Passovers of deliverance on more occasions than one; battles between good and evil within human hearts as much as among and between rival tribes and nations. They must not have personalized their own biblical and national histories, otherwise those stories of arrogance and humility, greed and generosity would have kept them constantly aware of the human condition ever in need redemption.

Ignorant or forgetful they were—probably  some combination of both—the people who dismissed Jesus. They reduced him to his contemporary family links. No one special. No one unique.  Didn’t they realize that negating Jesus’ uniqueness they were denying themselves of their own uniqueness, and their universal needs? How foolish they were.

How foolish are we!  It is essential that we  be mindful of our pasts if we are to live fully in the present.  I’m not speaking only of our personal pasts–our families’ pasts, but that of our nation and our biblical heritage as well.  These are the realities that impact our minds and hearts consciously and subconsciously every day; they are the realities that bring our need for Jesus and His communion of disciples—those on earth and in heaven—working together in prayer and action to  navigate the rights and wrongs, the truths, the lies, the generosity, the self-serving aspects of human nature and society in every generation, in every age.

The Good News is whether we know Jesus or not, whether we claim our identity and our heritage as His Disciples or not, His love and Wisdom is for everyone.  And, on wider circles, the same is true for God the Father as the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveal God – generous, kind and forgiving to all including the ungrateful, the clueless and the wicked.

Let’s face it, even we who know, we who follow Jesus and seek communion with him, exploring, discerning, illuminating Christ’s Spirit in ourselves and others, yes, even we could be more knowledgeable of Biblical, Church History and that of our nations.  All offer innumerable examples of virtues that triumphed, goodness that failed;  hospitality and selfishness, of peace and violence, the ever-constant approach / avoidance of God we all experience – a treasure chest of knowledge with great potential for Wisdom for today.

Come to the Eucharist today with a greater willingness to wrestle with our past—the failings of Saints and Nations as much as their successes. Gauge them alone and with others as to the degrees of our ancestors’ cooperation with God, with 10 Commandments, the extent of their  identification with Jesus and the Spirit.

Confident that Memory is one of God’s most vital gifts to humanity for Growth and Wisdom, may today’s mass motivate us to keep learning from our mistakes, acknowledging our ignorance, inspire us to know more who of we are, who we’ve been and what the signs of our times call us to be.  Pope Francis has written encyclicals that urge us to attend to care for the Environment and our relationship with the animal world (Laudato Si), to re-evaluate the way business and commerce commence (part of Lumen Fidei—light of faith—an encyclical that insists we engage the world not just our individual souls).  And let us not forget the 1986 US Bishops “Economic Justice for All” – so much of the wisdom and compassion of that document has yet to reconcile our culture to the values of Faith. Nor should we forget the warnings of Pope Saint John Paul II on that same topic: Centesimus Annus – on Capital, Labor and Catholic Social Teaching.

May we trust Christ’s indwelling in us will strengthen us to name the sins of the past, undo the damage done that continues to threaten the land, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the relationships among nations and within and among peoples. May faith, hope and love be strengthened in us through today’s sacrament, moving this entire generation of Christians forward –ever-ready, ever-willing to access every possible opportunity for GRACE, knowing that Christ Jesus and his truth make him not just yesterday’s Savior, but Our Savior for today, tomorrow and always.

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Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sunday 4th of February 2018

 Reading 1JB 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Responsorial PsalmPS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Reading 21 COR 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

GospelMK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

It’s easy to fall into the existential angst of Job – “what does anything matter?” We let the words of Ecclesiastes echo repeatedly in our heads: “All is vanity. Life is meaningless.” When we’re in that state of mind, it is profitable to remember that faith insists that humanity needs a Savior.  God initiated a Covenant with mankind for this very purpose: deliverance from mere existence into fullness of life.

For us, the story of Jesus is a healing story.  It’s restorative, transformative.  Jesus’s destiny was and remains a healing ministry just as he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and myriad of others long ago.  But note Jesus’ exemplifies an essential aspect of his restorative technique right here in today’s Gospel for all of us to appreciate:  solitude: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  We must remember that prayer does not / must not always include words.  Sometimes in our despair, words are even too much for us to bear.  Solidarity with God requires silence, too.  Here’s a perfect example from a story by religious sister and spiritual writer José Hobday:

“One summer Saturday when I was 12, I was waiting for my friend who wanted to come over. We had planned the morning together. She was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact, I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house.

“Finally, my father said to me ‘Get a book a blanket and an apple and get into the car!’ I wanted to know why, but he repeated the order. So, I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area and said, ‘Now get out.  We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with.  Stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.’

I got out, angry, frustrated and defiant. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking home.  Eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold and I changed my mind.

“I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good, rebellious cry with no audience, so finally, there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone.

“I sat on the rim, kicking the dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours, as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it– as well as the book and the blanket.  I climbed back up and as I came over the top, I noticed the piñon tree. It was lovely and full.
I spread the blanket in the shade, put the book under my head and began to eat the apple.  I was aware of a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came to me.  The clouds sat in still puffs, the blue was endless; I began to take in their spaciousness. I thought about the way I had acted and why daddy had treated me so harshly.  Understanding began to come and I became more objective about my behavior. I found myself getting in touch with my feelings, with the world around me.

“Nature was my mother, holding me for comfort and healing. I became aware of being part of it all, and I found myself thinking of God. . .. I felt in communion with much that I could not know, but to which I was drawn.   .  .  Of touching the holy.

“By the time my father came to get me, I was restored.  Daddy did not press me about the day.  He asked no questions and I gave him no answers.  But I was different and we both knew it. . . Before I got out of the car, I thanked him.”

May we begin with a little more silence now then we usually do—that is, before we return to the words of The Creed.  And so, may the balance of this Mass increase our comfortability with solitude and the mystical presence of Jesus.

Sunday Homily 19 November 2017

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

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

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

Reading 2 1 Thes 5:1-6

Gospel Mt 25:14-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All Saints Day

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

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

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

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

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

Men & Women Loving Neighbors

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 Reading 1;        EX 22:20-26

Responsorial Psalm:  PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Reading 2:       1 THES 1:5C-10

Gospel:    MT 22:34-40

 Considering recent headlines of women being harassed, exploited, intimidated in the workplace, it should be evident we need to look at the relationship between men and woman in accordance with the Great Commandment that irrevocably link Love of God and Love of Neighbor.  “How should men treat woman?” is the primary topic, but its counterpart, “How should women treat men?” is also an aspect in the equation.  How may we remedy the sexism of our age and the not uncommon practice of sexual harassment?

 

First let’s look at its probable cause: There is an erroneous concept and/or belief that sexual engagement is an entitlement rather than a sacred gift.  This idea is legion in social media in ads and programs that focus on sexuality at the expense of all other facets of the human person. Who is not tempted in some fashion to indulge in the fantasies these constant images and temptations provoke?   We can and often do feel helpless in the realm of sexuality because of too many mixed messages, too many insecurities about our bodies and too little certainty of what it means to be a fulfilled human being.

 

It seems obvious today that many people are apt to let their feelings overpower logic, desires outweigh morals, appetites take precedent over respect—a respect which expresses Love of God and Neighbor.   With the prevailing attitudes toward love-making as sport and entertainment, human sexuality is reduced to “favors” and “benefits” as if our bodies are commodities, means to a financial end.

 

Sex as recreation and entitlement continue to hold sway in the mind of many—an aspect that is not at all divorced from the abuse of women, the manipulation of women and in some cases men, too, in the workplace, in college and universities and everywhere else.  It is also a component in psychological disorders and the abuse of vulnerable minors and children—scandals that continue to be a grave concern.

 

Church and society may agree that no one should be pressured into surrendering themselves against his or her free will in any circumstance.  Lacking is the commitment, time and patience required to nurture reverence of the human person-body, soul and spirit. This Spirit of Discipleship is not to control people (a common secular accusation against the Church) but to cultivate maturity, trust and commitment in all friendships and associations.  This is the role of Church and family. This is what we are called to contribute to improve society.

 

In truth, in the past, a disproportionate negativity regarding human sexuality on the Church’s part in some ways contributed to the current confusion and the libertarian approach to sexual expression.  Still, the Church has learned and keeps on learning to see the gift of sexuality in a far more holy and holistic light.  Acknowledging sexual thoughts and feelings as part of an aspect of human experience that cannot be ignored, refuted or demeaned but rather as a component of the beings God made and intended is where we now begin. This is what is called for: Respecting ALL the respective components of the human person, not dismissing or avoiding them—but rather integrating them in healthy balance: the intellectual self, the emotional self, the psychological self, creating a beautiful harmony between a well-informed conscience and the generative and creative/ productive/ artistic dimensions in each of us.

 

The truth is that Society and even some (though not all) sexual education programs continue to give very confusing, mixed messages.   People of faith must work together to transform society’s mixed message to one of positive, healthy relationships that guide men and women to higher values and greater integrities in our friendships, in business relationships, dating, in courtship, in marriage. If the schools don’t offer courses on “how to be Friends,” “How to be Healthy Families,” “How to be Respectful Workplace companions” then Families and Church must take up the slack and take advantage of the many spiritual and therapeutic tools offered us.

 

Hopefully you know that many Religious Education courses for children up to and including teen confirmation classes explore how faith in Jesus cultivates harmony among family members, emphasizes the joy that respectful dating brings and the self-esteem that can be achieved by overcoming temptations to be self-indulgent at the expense of another human being. Yet, discipleship insists on extending these values beyond the classroom to the words we choose to use at home about our bodies and other peoples’ bodies. Discipleship must extend to how husbands and wives treat one another alone AND in front of their children and to the way parents cultivate friendship, patience and compassion among siblings, cousins and neighbors.  Compare our language and conduct in private and social situations.  What words and gestures do we use at high emotional events such as baseball and football games?  Do we insist that every woman be recognized as someone’s mother, wife or sister –with all the integrity those roles provide?  Do we acknowledge that every man is someone’s father, husband or brother?  Seeing each other first in this way needs to be the foundation of all relationships, including those that potentially may lead to dating, romance and marriage for that sacrament insists on a relationship of equal partners.  Millions of married people affirm that friendship is the most long-lasting dynamic of any marriage.  These are Catholic Christian values.  Catholic Christian goals.

 

Goals must be worked at, inform our daily choices. What we clearly need are more hours spent at-home with in-depth discussion about the songs and films and tv shows and books the children encounter –and that we adults encounter.  Yes, scrutiny is needed to discern the most age-appropriate programming for each member of a family,  but because the state of the media and electronics do not prevent kids from stumbling upon less wholesome content at home or elsewhere, our families must commit to setting time aside that not only address the topics, characters, the stories, and the friends and adults that kids encounter but allow  time for children to express feelings, explore attitudes and social conventions with parents and other trusted adults. And to assess all these in the light of Christ and our Catholic sensibilities. Of course, this isn’t only a message for parents and guardians.  We all can benefit from more conversation among adults about what we read and see—not condemnatory, but honest sharing of feelings, vulnerabilities and our temptations, too. More conversation, more understanding among friends, dating partners, engaged and married couples can bring greater integrity and respect to all adult relationships.

 

The Church’s insistence on weekly Eucharist is a constant reminder that we need help applying the Two Great Commandments to our lives.  Consider, also, the Persistence of the Word – how often and in how many ways these Great Commandments are articulated, their benefits exemplified in countless Scriptural encounters throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles preached for thousands of years.  What’s more, within and beyond the Bible there are innumerable historical tragedies evidencing the terrible consequences of people who thwart these Commandments.  And because we’ve all become lax and at times unwilling to incarnate them in all our relationships, in all our social, business and political endeavors, we return to Mass and Sacraments. What else can we do?  No!  Not “what we can do?” Rather, what will we let GOD DO with us as boys and girls, men and women on our pathway to heaven?

Calling Forth Constancy to the First Commandment

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 12: 29-32

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I met a traveller from an antique land

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

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

 

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

RESTING IN THE LORD! 

Homily for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1    IS 25:6-10A
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2  PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel Mt 22:1-14

RESTING IN THE LORD!   Isn’t that one or our objectives today?  We come to Mass to “Rest in the Lord,” as the Psalmist wrote: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;” he refreshes my soul.”

Hearing the 23rd Psalm once again—We’re hearing it for the 4th time this year and will once more if that option is taken on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd –we’re reminded that it is a Psalm of consolation; confidence and trust in God taking care of us, soothing our souls. God is the God of hospitality—rewarding any weary traveler who arrives, freely, willingly with reverence and deference to the Source of All Being. We know this because the Psalmist is already a person of faith—through whom we are invited to see ourselves as rightfully and utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus’ parable extends the 23rd Psalm with its image of God as the great host, but he embellishes it with a shot of reality:  everyone is invited to the Lord’s banquet—the table is ready, but many won’t attend.  Some are busy with other things; others refuse outright; others protest with downright hostility.  We should not be surprised by the range of these refusals.  We all consider them–each in our own way, yes, even those of us who chose to be at Worship this afternoon.  Why the confusion?  Why the mixture of feelings of approach / avoidance / willingness / uncertainty?

Because coming into the presence of God can be exacting.  It requires surrender to the Spirit which in many ways confronts our busy lives, our preoccupations that so readily keep “Christ consciousness” at bay; distractions that  feed our illusions that we are as self-sufficient, self-reliant, masters of our own ships and vehicles.  We arrive at mass hoping we may take away some new insight, some thought for the day or concept to get us through the week, but we still may leave without a genuine experience of God.  We know this because our mixture of desire and ambivalence at Mass often comes from the knowledge that it takes determination and great effort on our part—far more than simply setting time set aside—be it for this for Mass, or prayers throughout each day, time for contemplating Scriptures alone and/or with others as part of our daily or weekly routine. We have these tools at our fingertips—all of us, these are the timeless tools for every age, but, like in the times of Jesus and forever after, our busy schedules and daily distractions may prevent us from the deep surrender that allows God to minister to us, Jesus to anoint our heads with oil, the Holy Spirit to make more of this meal of words and bread and wine. The point of all this: relationships take time, require tender care; insist that we persevere in vulnerability – not to everyone or everything but to the Father, Son and Spirit.   Here. Now. What we experience at Mass is meant, by its weekly repetition to develop in us the facility of accepting the Tenderness of Jesus in all places, all situations, all engagements.

Relationships take time and willingness to be still.  Without that we keep living lives of avoidance –running from God, from intimacy with God and others. There was a song by folk singer Harry Chapin that became a # 1 hit in back in 1974.  It played for months on end, and for many years afterward–so strongly did people relate to it. Entitled “The Cats in the Cradle,” it was about a father obsessed with work and scheduled activities, who neglects (if not outwardly avoids) spending time with his growing son.  When the man retires and seeks, (finally!) some quality time with his son, he finds his offspring busy with many things: Like Martha in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary.  The refrain went like this:  And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon “When you coming home, son?”  “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’re going to have a good time then.”  I.e., the time that never happened, the time that will never come.

Stillness. Quiet. Prayerful Intimacy.  Surrendering our sense of time—that’s the goal of every mass! Maybe it should take more than an hour!  How much time would we need to learn the art of vulnerability with God, contemplative receptiveness, to hold and cultivate this Eucharistic reality beyond our time together.  I could remind you that in other parts of the world each Mass goes on for hours, with greater lengths of song and silence, of words and contemplative prayer, Words leading up to Eucharist and savoring the awareness God is present!  God is within!   God is everywhere –in you, in me, in our breathing, in the beating of our hearts, in activating our minds with story, with songs and images—bestowed on the faithful for our benefit.

And, yet, like the Israelites in the desert complaining to Moses, we’re impatient, we want to get going, we want to move on.   To what?  In their case the Promised Land but, as they found out, the land required work- — yes, required work, required patience, required cooperation, and, often the people made a mess of it.  The Bible tells us they even lost it.  Well, not completely lost, but certainly long delayed and still not yet fulfilled. You and I are equally guilty of delaying the intimacy with God that we continue to seek, delaying the intimacy through experiences of Jesus as Sacrament that we still take for granted by not investing the necessary patience, the hard work of total surrender.

Still, each Mass is an opportunity.  We begin by admitting our impatience with God (perhaps that is the most common, universal “sin!”)  — thus the Kyrie and penitential aspects of the GLORIA!  We give praise to God while acknowledging we so often forget to do so! Then we must follow through by an act of decision and free will to fully surrender to the power of the Scriptures—words and images–and the sensations of the Eucharist, Holy Meal that it is, to savor the Christ With US and IN US.   In other words, literally taking Jesus with us as we go to work, to home, to leisure.  In the parable, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. We pray today, we won’t lose the bigger picture because we are often busy, over-scheduled and / or burnt out.

In the parable, the king said to one of the guests, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ The Wedding Garment represents a converted life full of good deed.  Sinners are invited but are expected to repent and willingly clothe themselves in perpetual holiness —as envisioned in The Book of Revelation as those wearing the white robes of the elect  Clothing ourselves in Christ is meant to be the purpose, the ultimate attainment of our lives. Is Christ in our business suits?  Our leisurewear? Our comfortable pajamas and nightgowns?  What does that mean?  It means we wear patience and kindness to ourselves and others, we see all life as prayer, we cultivate tenderness as strength, correct wrongs in charitable ways – filled with understanding and HOPE.

Today’s Gospel warns all believers against complacency.  Jesus offers the Vision of Isaiah – a great banquet available to all people, saints and sinners alike.  He incarnates the soothing words of the Psalm: restful waters, banquets overflowing with healing nourishment anticipating the taste of wheat on our tongues, the welcoming, healing power of the Mass.  A vision we can savor, maintain and perpetuate — or not. The Vision has it’s time, it will not delay—the banquet is PIPING HOT, i.e. ever-ready.  I often return to the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:3 and invite you to do the same:  For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

NOW is the TIME for there is no time like the present. As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians:  13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. . .. 19 My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  And, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures: “Where your treasure is, there, also will you heart be.”  Peace!