Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2023
There’s an old rabbinic parable about a farmer who had two sons. As soon as they were old enough to walk he took them into the fields and taught them everything he knew about growing crops and raising animals. When he got too old to work the 2 boys took over the chores of the farm and when their father died they continued working the farm together. At every harvest season they would equally divide what the farm produced.
The elder brother never married, but the younger brother did and had 8 wonderful children. Several years later when they had a bountiful harvest the bachelor brother thought to himself “My brother has 10 mouths to feed and I only have one. He really needs more of the harvest than I do. But I know he’s much too fair to renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the dead of night while he’s already asleep, I’ll take some of what I have in my barn and put it into his barn to help him feed his large family.
At the same time his younger brother was thinking to himself, “God has given me all these wonderful children and my brother needs more of this harvest than I do to store up for his old age. But I know he’s much too fair and will never renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the dead of the night while he’s asleep, I’ll take some of what I’ve put in my barn and put it in his.
One night when the moon was full those two brothers came face to face each on their mission of generosity. The old rabbi concluded the story by noting there wasn’t a cloud in the sky yet a gentle rain began to fall. He said it was God weeping for joy because two of his children had understood generosity is one of the deepest characteristics of love.
Americans have always believed to value justice. Playing fair is part of our earliest training in life. That’s why when we hear today’s Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, we immediately think that’s just not fair. It shocks our sensibilities of how unfair it is for some laborers to work longer than others but at the end of the day all get the same pay. Those who worked in the fields all day felt cheated that they didn’t get more than those who worked only part of the day. They thought the master wasn’t fair and should’ve paid them more.
But wait a minute; was the landowner unfair? I mean he paid those who worked all day exactly what he told them they’d get. As this homily unfolds we shall see life is not fair, thank God!
It seems whenever this parable is discussed the question of fairness always becomes the focal point. We get so focused on the pay situation and miss the primary point of the parable. The parable is really not about how much someone should get paid. It’s not about the amount of work done. The overriding focus of the parable is much more about the good and gracious nature of God and his generosity. At the beginning of the parable Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard.” Jesus is explaining to us something about the kingdom of heaven, not economics. Conversely, he’s using economics to teach us about the kingdom of God.
In Jesus’ time laborers had to wait each day in the marketplace until someone hired them for a day’s job. The normal pay was just enough for a person to feed his family for one day so no work that day usually meant no food on the family table. The fact that some of them stood around until even late afternoon proves how desperately they wanted to support their families. The generous landowner knew this so he hired all those in the late afternoon so they wouldn’t have to go hungry or rely on the generosity of family and friends but with heads held high they could go home and feed their families themselves.
Here’s the biblical backdrop with respect to salvation. The landowner is God and the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom God first offered His covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In the Lord’s great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to those first-called Israelites, will now be paid, given, to those called last, the rest of the nations, the Gentiles, us!
We’re the recipients of this generosity. All the baptized have been grafted onto the root of the tree of God’s chosen people and have become adopted children of God. God, the divine landowner, wants everyone to be in his vineyard, the kingdom of heaven. God wants us all in relationship with him and to enjoy his love and friendship.
But we live in a fallen world and we’ve all unfairly walked off the job at various times–thumbing our noses at him through disobedience, pride and selfishness. Some have gone AWOL longer than others, and some have committed sins far more grievous than others. Actually the bottom line in terms of strict justice is God doesn’t owe any of us anything except, perhaps, punishment. Fortunately justice doesn’t preclude generosity.
God is generous in opening the doors of his kingdom to all who will enter, both those who have labored a life-time for him as well as those who come at the last hour. We rejoice God has compassion on every person He’s created. This should console all of us sinners especially if we have loved ones who remain far from the vineyard. I’ve heard from so many people how they lament that many of their family members have left the Catholic Church and/or no longer practice any type of religion. The hurt runs deep; they care about their spiritual well-being and there’s nothing they want more than for the strayed to return to God’s vineyard and enjoy his friendship and so we pray in earnest for them and never give up.
It’s never too late to return to the Lord. It’s never too late to stop living an aimless life, to repent and leave sinful ways and be welcomed back into the loving embrace of the mercy of God. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Lord continues to go out to the marketplace every hour to invite people into his vineyard.
Brothers and sisters, God isn’t fair, thank God! In his extraordinary generosity, the Lord has offered all of us an exceptionally generous opportunity. If we will accept His beloved Son in faith as Savior and Lord, and through the power of the Spirit seek to do His will, and if we will repent each time we fail, He will give us what we do not deserve–friendship with Him not just here on earth but a friendship that will lead to eternal glory in heaven in the hereafter.
My dad used to say you cannot out-give God. God is love and we made in his image and likeness are to extend that love to Him first as a matter of justice and also to our neighbor. May we appreciate and imitate that same generosity to both friend and foe so that like the 2 brothers each of us may make God weep for joy because we too as his children have understood generosity is one of the deepest characteristics of love.
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2023
Betty was a woman who lived at Amsterdam during World War II. When the Nazis occupied the Netherlands her family began to help Jews who were being rounded up and sent to death camps. Eventually someone turned her family in and they were also sent off to concentration camps. Betty and her sister were sent to the infamous Ravensbruck camp. Sadly she would be the only family member who survived this tragic ordeal.
After the war Betty travelled around Europe giving lectures on forgiveness and reconciliation. After one talk in Munich, Germany a man came forward to thank her for her talk. Suddenly she recognized this man was one of the Nazi guards who used to stand duty in the women’s shower room at Ravensbruck. The man reached out to shake her hand but she froze. The horror of the camp and the death of her sister rushed back into her memory. She was filled with resentment and revulsion. She had just given a riveting talk on forgiveness and now she herself was confronted with a situation where she found it extremely difficult to forgive someone. Betty immediately began to pray silently and all of a sudden her hand, as if empowered by another source and with a gaze of true forgiveness in her eyes took the former guard’s hand. At that moment she discovered a great truth; forgiveness is only possible with the help of God’s grace.
The theme for this week’s readings concern mercy and forgiveness with the ultimate hope of reconciliation with all who have hurt us in anyway. Actually to forgive those who offend us is a sacred duty. The mercy and forgiveness we show to others should be the heartfelt expression of our gratitude for the mercy and forgiveness God has extended to us.
Being one of the OT wisdom books, at least in the Catholic Bible, Sirach tells us it’s wise to forgive but unwise to nurse grudges. It teaches us it’s against our own best interests to hold onto anger. Sirach wisely reminds us we often cherish our wrath, nourish our anger and refuse mercy to those who have done us wrong. Jesus strikes close to home as well in today’s gospel with His portrayal of the abusive wicked servant who refused forgiving a fellow servant’s debt although his own slate had just been wiped clean by their master.
All of us have our own personal stories of being hurt. Everyone of us has been wronged by someone and because we still live in a fallen world we’ll continue to be hurt by others. Some wounds are nominal pricks while others can be extremely deep. Many times we over dramatize the situation. But it doesn’t always matter whether big or small the fact we’ve been hurt is the focal point and sometimes something within us seems to allow us to feel we have a right to continue in our anger towards someone who has hurt us.
After all we didn’t create the situation, the other person did. We didn’t attack anyone, the other person attacked us. We were the victims, not the perpetrators. We rationalize our lives would have been significantly different if that person had not said or done this or that. And so we attempt to justify our anger and hold a grudge.
To make matters worse when we reflect on a past hurt we relive it in our minds. We feel the emotions welling up in us again although the incident occurred a long time ago, even decades ago. Before we realize it we’re back at the scene of the altercation. We feel the rage we had once more and obviously still have.
Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine” meaning it’s natural to hold on to hurts but supernatural to extend forgiveness. Everyone knows forgiving is not easy and may be more or less difficult depending on the person and events involved. But it’s the only way forward. As long as we fail to forgive, we aren’t free; we’re held captive by it, whereas forgiveness brings freedom!
Our willingness to forgive demonstrates the depth of our Christian charity. When we withhold forgiveness we remain the victim. Our failure to offer pardon means we’ve either forgotten God’s goodness and mercy or we haven’t fully appreciated the unconditional forgiveness we’ve received from Him. No offense our neighbor can do to us can compare with our own personal debt to God for often offending him! If we expect God to pardon us and show us his mercy when we sin and disobey his commandments, then we must be willing to let go of any resentment, grievance, or ill-will we feel towards our neighbor and forgive them.
I once heard a priest say unforgiveness is like stubbornly holding a venomous snake close to our chest which can inflict a mortal wound on you. Instead of holding on to unforgiveness we should throw it as far away from us as we can like we would a poisonous snake.
What God expects from us and offers us grace to give, is unlimited forgiveness with the ability and willingness to overlook faults and to keep on loving even in the face of future altercations. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, resentment and anger. We always have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive, but when choose to forgive we make the choice that heals.
Brothers and sisters all of us have received plenteous mercy from God because he loves us too much to hold a grudge. We’ve been forgiven an enormous debt we can never repay on our own. Living under God’s mercy we must bring his mercy and compassion to others and as always God gives us the grace to do what he asks of us. Here’s another anecdote to show this.
The prison ministry of a mother began 18 months after her son was brutally murdered. She knew it was God’s will for her to forgive him. She had spoken the words in her mind, but she continued to harbor ill will in her heart toward the man who had robbed her of her son.
She previously agreed to never say “no” to God so when she heard Him telling her, “I want you to love the man who killed your son,” she had no choice but to fight the natural rage boiling up within her and to practice Christian charity and mercy.
While visiting a prison to support a friend at a parole hearing she suddenly came face-to-face with her son’s murderer. Controlling her inner rage with prayer she said to the man “Richard my name is Judy. You murdered my son and I want you to know I love you and I forgive you.” The man began sobbing and the prison guards had to remove her from the facility.
Afterwards Judy sent the murderer letters, but he sent them all back. Although her family and pastor advised her to stop she obeyed God’s message to her and continued to write. God’s grace finally broke through and the two were reconciled.
There’s a surprisingly twist to this saga-the two began a prison ministry team proclaiming God’s grace and forgiveness to inmates. Before her death Judy became the spiritual mother of scores of hardened criminals. On her last Mother’s Day she received 40 Mother’s Day cards from former criminals whose lives she touched.
None of this fruit would have been possible had she held on to her unforgiveness. Instead she and Betty chose forgiveness that healed their hurt and set them free and the same my dear children can happen for us.
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2023
One night in 1935, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia showed up at night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren. La Guardia said, “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or 10 days in jail.” As he spoke he threw $10 into his hat. He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city where an old woman had to steal bread so that her grandchildren wouldn’t starve. The hat was passed around and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50.
This short anecdote describes a person in authority who is humble, not too good to perform a lesser task, stands up for the rule of law and has the compassion to help someone in need.
The common theme of today’s scripture passages is God’s command concerning our spiritual responsibility for others in our families, parishes and community. This accountability arises from our identity as all being God’s children. As brothers and sisters in Christ we become each other’s “keepers”.
In today’s first reading God tells Ezekiel he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” meaning he’s obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. As a prophet he must not only keep watch, but do everything in his power to advise the people about the potential results of their actions. In this role he must be willing to risk his popularity and even his personal safety if necessary. In so doing he realizes many people will be more apt to ignore and mock than listen to him. Nevertheless, regardless of the people’s reaction he still has an obligation to be watchful.
The greatest danger for a prophet is to be silent. Failing to speak out causes people to be ignorant of God’s message and of any repercussions if they decline to listen and not act accordingly. Of course the hope is they will heed his message and reform their lives. However, if the people resist his message the retribution will fall on them, not him. Ultimately however, God will hold the prophet accountable and punish him if he’s cowardly silent.
So have prophets become extinct? Are there any in our world today? Well the answer is no they aren’t extinct, and yes there are many in our world today and we Catholics call them, Father! Every priest by virtue of his ordination shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ who is the consummate prophet. Every priest based on his seminary training is equipped and commissioned to prophetically preach the Word of God and teach the truths of the faith.
As spiritual fathers, priests have the solemn and vital responsibility to protect their spiritual children. As such they shouldn’t allow them to be put in any kind of spiritual danger. Priests are to teach authentic Catholic doctrine whether they agree with it or not and not their version of it.
One of the temptations some priests have is to want to be popular and that can sometimes prevent them from speaking out on certain moral issues. People need to be taught and reminded from time to time of important moral truths of our faith so sometimes paternal love demands priests as God’s watchmen to tell their spiritual children things they may not want to hear on moral issues like: abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality, artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and this insane trans issue today.
Catholic doctrine teaches God places a soul into the conceptus at the moment of conception making the conceptus not a blob of tissue but a human person so abortion is the taking of an innocent human life. Likewise euthanasia or aptly called “mercy killing” is intentionally taking the life of the inconvenient, mostly the elderly, the handicapped and no longer wanted cryo-preserved embryos. Homosexuality is the inordinate, unnatural attraction of people of the same sex and when this attraction results in a sexual act between them, the act is sinful. God is the author of all human life and to use any type of artificial barrier to fertility is in effect playing God and is sinful. All conceptions of human life are to be the result of natural marital love. To “produce” human life in a laboratory is unnatural and thus contrary to the dignity of the human person and is sinful. God created man in his image and likeness, male and female he created them. There are no other alternatives. Research has proven gender dysphoria is almost always remedied with biological gender affirmation as the person matures but if not psychiatric help is advised. Any type of gender realignment therapy through medications which have severe side effects and/or surgery which is considered mutilation of a person’s body are unnatural and again contrary to the dignity of the human person.
As with some biological parents if the goal of a priest is to be everybody’s buddy rather than their spiritual father, they will not only be ineffective in teaching their spiritual children to live moral lives and diminish the sin committed in the world, as his brother’s keeper he will also commit a sin of omission and as a result the sins his spiritual children commit will actually append to his soul rather than theirs. Now I’ve already racked up a lengthy stay in purgatory for the sins of my prior life and priestly life and I don’t need to add any of yours. For all these reasons and more I just proved I don’t shy away from preaching on the tough issues we face today. I may not be able to change anyone’s mind or behavior but I’m still obliged as a watchman to speak the truth in love for all to hear.
Now this teaching isn’t just about priests’ obligation to be watchmen for their spiritual flocks. All of us are our brothers’ keepers. Fraternal correction, to admonish a sinner is a spiritual work of mercy. Of course this doesn’t mean we’re to confront every moral infraction we notice and I’ll give some advice on what and how to do that in a moment. But many people think they have no moral obligation or right to call to mind something they notice is a serious sin since they’re sinners themselves. They recall Jesus saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” and wrongly conclude how can I a sinner correct a sinner? If that’s the case no one would ever correct anyone. Making a critical assessment about one’s actions is not being judgmental. Strangely enough though many have no problem at all telling others what that person may be doing behind their back which by the way is a sin of detraction and uncharitable speech, but lack the moral courage to confront the person in fraternal charity which perpetuates the bad behavior of the person committing the act and its effects on others.
Jesus is love and St. Paul reminds us he taught us to love God and our neighbor as yourself. St. Paul also tells us today love does no evil to his neighbor. So here’s the advice I spoke of a moment ago. There are four basic things one can do to make the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner or fraternal correction effective rather than destructive and they are supernatural outlook, humility, consideration, and affection.
First supernatural outlook involves prayer wherein one discerns to give fraternal correction only when convinced God wants it for the sake of the person one is correcting and those affected by that person. One is to pray asking the Holy Spirit if he wants this correction to be made he will counsel the person on how to go about giving it.
Humility is necessary because we have to remember we’re all sinners and fail in many varied ways. Any air of self righteousness is counter-productive. Humility acknowledges no one is perfect, but God still wants us to love our neighbor by helping them.
No one likes to be corrected and it’s so easy in our emotion driven society today to hurt another person’s feelings which will deflect any good we’re trying to accomplish. So it’s vitally important to be considerate meaning to say what we have to say in the least hurtful and constructive way possible but to also tell it like it is in charity.
Finally true affection involves the fraternal correction being delivered with empathetic love and concern. The motive for any “intervention” is the eternal good of the person being corrected and not to portray any degree of spiritual superiority.
Brothers and sisters we are all watchmen, we are all our brothers’ keepers. While most of us avoid conflict at all cost and I am one of those, sometimes it’s necessary to confront someone in charity when we notice harmful and sinful behavior. So we ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to guide us when led by him to do any type of fraternal correction. We pray to be humble, gracious and compassionate admonishers even if we don’t get a major city’s airport named after us.
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 27, 2023
A couple of months ago I was told a local Methodist church was voting whether to stay as part of the Methodist Church or leave and become a non-denominational Christian assembly. The topic of debate was homosexuality. Several years ago the Presbyterian Church voted to allow same sex marriages in their churches prompting an amendment to its constitution wherein its definition of marriage was changed from being between “a man and a woman” to “two persons”. The Episcopal church has proudly accepted openly homosexual ministers.
What has caused these and other protestant ecclesial communities as well as Reformed Judaism and even some prominent Catholics who should know better like President Biden to endorse the lgbtq agenda in abject opposition to Sacred Scripture? Well the answer more than likely is they’re bowing to current societal pressure and as such are repudiating the eternal truths found in both Sacred Scripture and the natural law.
My purpose is not to be critical of other faiths or denigrate those living a sinful alternative lifestyle. I mention this because this changing of course ties in perfectly with the Catholic interpretation of today’s gospel, an interpretation which distinguishes Catholic doctrine from all other Christian denominations. In this passage St. Matthew describes the foundation for the Catholic understanding of the Papacy and the prominence the Papacy enjoys.
Actually the roots of the papacy go back to the OT system of governing. Like most heads of state, King David and his successors had officers in positions of authority. The most important officer assisting the king was something like a prime minister who was called “the Master of the Palace” who proudly carried the “keys,” symbolizing his rank as second in command of the royal palace. As the bearer of the keys he had the power to open and close doors which basically controlled access to the king himself.
In today’s first reading Isaiah foretells the keys to David’s kingdom would be given to a new master who would rule as a father to God’s people. This passage prompted some of the early Church Fathers to understand it as a Messianic prophecy, foretelling the transfer of power from the leaders of the chosen people of the old covenant to Jesus who in turn would hand it on to Peter as head of His Church. How so you may ask? Well St. Matthew gives us all the answers.
After conducting the first ever Gallup Poll asking his Apostles who do people say he is, Jesus follows up by asking who do you say I am? And Simon says “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” Here’s the only time Jesus changes someone’s name and when God changes someone’s name it indicates this person is to play a significant role in salvation history. OT examples include Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel.
Following Simon’s profession of faith Jesus declares what the Church calls the Petrine promise I say to you Simon you are Peter (Petras, you are Rock) and upon you Peter (upon you Rock) I shall build (what?) MY church (not churches, it’s singular not plural) and the gates of hell will never prevail against her (eternal).
A rock is something stable you can stand on, even build on. We’re familiar with the saying something is “rock solid”. Now that Simon Peter has been named the bedrock of the Church Jesus fulfills what Isaiah foretold about how the keys of David’s kingdom would be given to a new master of the palace saying I give to you Peter (Rock of my church) the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. Jesus, the root and offspring of David, has now entrusted the keys to Peter as this new master of the palace, the Vicar of His Church. In fact both the Papal Seal and the Pope’s Coat of Arms contain the image of 2 keys representing this divine ecclesial authority.
Jesus gave Peter and all the Apostles the authority to bind and loose, but he only entrusts Peter with the keys. Let’s be clear Jesus is the foundation stone on which his Church is founded, he is her head. But Peter, the Pope, is the visible human head of his Church on earth.
This primacy Peter holds is not isolated to this declaration by Jesus. On other occasions we see Jesus giving preference to Peter. During the Last Supper we read in Luke’s Gospel Jesus spoke to Peter about his future role: Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32)
We see the unique role of Peter among the other apostles. On Easter Sunday although St. John got to Jesus’ tomb first he waited for Peter and entered after him. After his resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles by the Sea of Galilee and he asked Peter 3 times if he loved him and 3 times he commanded him to tend the flock of his Church. Whenever the gospels list the apostles they always put Peter’s name first to signify his vocation as head of the Church. Again and again in the Acts of the Apostles we see it’s Peter who has the role of leadership in the Church. It was Peter who decided Judas had to be replaced (Acts 1:15-26). It was Peter who preached at Pentecost. So it makes perfect sense Jesus would give Peter the authority to make decisions for his Church as we heard in today’s gospel.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven he didn’t give Peter a manual on how to run his Church entrusted to him. This is where the binding and loosing play an enormous role. Peter, the new master of the palace, has the keys signifying his authority to govern the Church and therefore make decisions for the good ordering of Christ’s Church.
The Catechism (#553) describes the power to “bind and loose” as signifying the authority to pronounce judgments regarding Catholic doctrine, to absolve sins, to make disciplinary decisions and determine who and what may or may not be permitted in Jesus’ Church. As the Church was to continue long after Peter had died it was rightly understood from the beginning those privileges given to him were given to his chosen successors, the Popes.
Jesus foreknew his teachings would be challenged and misunderstood. Our Catholic faith is a gift received; it’s not a matter of a democratic vote or public opinion which changes with the whims of society throughout the ages. Jesus didn’t want us his faithful to be confused or to be in doubt and that’s why he has given to the Pope a special charism or grace of infallibility meaning whenever Our Holy Father teaches on matters of faith or morals he is prevented from teaching error. This doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong about other things like the source of climate change or who will win the World Cup. However, he does have a duty to safeguard the deposit of the faith and even when there have been immoral Popes like the Borgia Popes, their teaching was preserved from error.
When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, he said he had come to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to him (John 18:37). Pilate, staring at Truth itself replied, “Truth? What is that?” (John 18:38). Jesus is the Truth, he is God and as such he is perfect and perfection denotes immutability, truth cannot change. There is right and wrong and we are very grateful to Jesus for giving us a “rock-solid” source of authority so that we don’t have to be engaged in and depend on any type of democratic vote to guide us with absolute certainty of what is true and good and beautiful.
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20, 2023
One day a certain curious person in heaven asked St. Peter “How many Hindus are in heaven?” Peter replied: “No Hindus”. Then he asked: “How many Muslims?” “Not even one”. “How many Jews?” “No Jews either.” The man was surprised and said: “Oh, then there’re only Christians in heaven?” “No, there’re no Christians in heaven either,” replied Peter who then said, “Heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here there is no distinction between religions; heaven is for all who love and obeyed the one true God.”
Today’s scripture passages speak of the expansive and universal nature of the Kingdom of God. They present a united theme that God’s salvation is available to all who put faith in him regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, political ideology, social status or any other social stratum our contemporary culture identifies and endorses. The prophet Isaiah promotes this by proclaiming, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…and hold to my covenant, them I shall bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”.
So not just Jews but all who truly seek the Lord and abide by his covenant have now been grafted onto the ancient rootstock of Israel along with their heritage of salvation and can be now counted among those redeemed by God. The Psalmist today affirms this in today’s responsorial: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” St. Paul says today he’s the apostle to the Gentiles.
As Catholics we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and God the Father sent his Son to redeem the world. Jesus established a Church as St. Matthew tells us and we’ll hear again nextd week And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I shall give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Every Sunday we pray in the Creed we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which we believe is founded on the Rock of Peter, our first pope. We believe she, the Church, has been given the fullness of divine revelation, all 7 sacraments which are necessary for our salvation and that we are to spread this good news to the ends of the earth.
Just as the Chosen People were to unite the world in the faith of the One God in the Old Covenant so now with the coming of Jesus and his victory over sin, death and Satan, the baton has been passed to the Catholic Church to evangelize and sanctify the whole world. Jesus commanded us to baptize all nations, all peoples.
Many may not know but this evangelization was one of the main motivations of the Second Vatican Council. In his opening remarks on October 11, 1962 Pope John XXIII said:
Without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine man is quite incapable of attaining to that complete and steadfast unanimity which is associated with genuine peace and eternal salvation. For such is God’s plan. He “wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Unhappily, however, the entire Christian family has not as yet fully and perfectly attained to this visible unity in the truth. But the Catholic Church considers it her duty to work actively for the fulfillment of that unity for which Christ prayed so earnestly to His heavenly Father on the eve of His great sacrifice.
There is first of all that unity of Catholics among themselves which must always be kept steadfast and exemplary. There is also a unity of prayer and ardent longing prompting Christians separated from this Apostolic See to aspire to union with us. And finally there is a unity, which consists in the esteem and respect shown for the Catholic Church by members of various non-Christian religions.
It is therefore an overwhelming source of grief to us to know that, although Christ’s blood has redeemed every man that is born into this world, there is still a great part of the human race that does not share in those sources of supernatural grace which exist in the Catholic Church.
Such is the aim of the Second Vatican Council. It musters the Church’s best energies and studies with all earnestness how to have the message of salvation more readily welcomed by men. By that very fact it blazes a trail that leads toward that unity of the human race, which is so necessary if this earthly realm of ours is to conform to the realm of heaven, “whose king is truth, whose law is love, whose duration is eternity.”
It’s quite unfortunate society today identifies people using various social strata, many of which I stated at the beginning of my homily. Being proud of who you are is great; you should be. But differences can be divisive which thwarts the realization we truly are one family created in the image and likeness of God. This divisiveness is primarily the result of sin all of which hinders the Church’s efforts of evangelization. Here is another anecdote to illustrate what I mean.
A catechist asked her students, “How many of you want to go to Heaven?” All the hands instantly shot up into the air except one. The catechist was astounded and so she asked, “Charlie, you mean you don’t want to go to Heaven?” He said, “Sure, I want to go to Heaven, but not with that bunch.”
Unfortunately, that’s how many groups see one another. One can look to the Middle East where Jews, Christians and Muslims are at odds with each other. All three of these religions trace their origins to the patriarch Abraham. All of them are monotheistic and honor the Mosaic Law. However, intertwined in all of this is political tension as well which drives an even deeper wedge among them. Rather than accentuate their common belief there’s conflict.
I sincerely believe God had a hand in the establishment of The United States. The Constitution written by the wise founders of our great country is an epic governing ruling document. Our country’s motto of In God We Trust, not in man or government, our Pledge of Allegiance includes “one nation under God” and finally E Pluribus Unum reinforces this belief that although we come from many backgrounds we are all one nation. Most all Americans come from different countries scattered around the globe. All of us are part of the “melting pot” which comprises the United States and we have to admit we now face some serious societal challenges today which impact not just the United States but because we value freedom we remain the predominant super power and capitalism has made us the economic giant we enjoy so our troubles affect the whole world.
So being Catholic and American presents a double responsibility on us. I’ve mentioned several times none of us single handedly can change the world, but we can change our little part of it. The best thing for us to do to help our country and the world is to be good Catholics, to be good citizens. We’re fortunate to live in the deep south where family and Christian values still permeate our communities and while we face some difficult challenges with our protestant brethren it’s time to put those differences aside and stop fighting each other and realize as Pope St. John Paul II told Billy Graham once “we are brothers.”
I close with yet another anecdote. This one I think exhibits the oneness we hope to recapture in our country and spread throughout the world:
A man and his family from Texas served as host to a rabbi from Moscow one Christmas. To treat the rabbi to a cuisine unavailable to him in his own country, they went to eat at a favorite Chinese restaurant. After an enjoyable meal and pleasant conversation, the waiter brought the check to the host and presented each person at the table with a small brass Christmas ornament as a complimentary gift. Everyone laughed when the rabbi turned the ornament over and read the label “Made in India.” The laughter quickly ended when everyone saw tears running down the rabbi’s cheeks. The father asked the rabbi if he were offended at having been given such a gift on a Christian holiday. Smiling, the rabbi shook his head and answered, “No, I was shedding tears of joy to be in such a wonderful country in which a Chinese Buddhist restaurant owner gives a Russian Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu in India.”
Each of us is defined by our religion, race, gender, ethnicity, political ideology and social status. Again heaven is not meant for any particular group of people. Here, there’s no distinction. Brothers and sisters my final point is we need to pray in earnest for unity among all peoples so that heaven can begin here on earth, and there’s no better time to start than right now!
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 13, 2023
There’s a story told about a young man who was struggling with several problems and went to a priest for pastoral direction. He lost his job, was estranged from his parents and his girlfriend was pressuring him to marry her and he didn’t know which way to turn. Pacing about the priest’s study the young man ranted about his problems. Finally, he clenched his fist and shouted, “I’ve begged God to say something to help me. Tell me, Father, why doesn’t God answer me?” The priest who sat across the room spoke something so hushed it was indistinguishable so the young man stepped across the room and asked “What did you say?” The priest repeated himself again in a very soft tone. So the young man moved even closer and said again, “Sorry Father but I still didn’t hear you.” With their heads practically next to each other the priest spoke once more. “God sometimes whispers so that we’ll move closer to hear Him.” This time the young man heard and he understood he needs to be quiet in order to hear what God wants to tell him. God often speaks in the silence of our hearts and souls.
This hushed voice is featured in our first reading from the first book of Kings. King Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the pagan king of Tyre. He not only allowed her to build a temple for her god, Baal, he even took part in and endorsed the sin of idol-worship. As a result the prophet Elijah was sent by God to bring His people back to true worship.
Elijah challenged the pagan priests of Baal to summon their god and when they failed and Elijah summoned God who did appear he slew the 450 priests of Baal which put Queen Jezebel in a rage. She then basically put out a contract on his life in retaliation. Scared to death and questioning his vocation Elijah ran for his life for 40 days to the mountain of God, Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai where he hides in a cave awaiting God’s word of direction. While there Elijah might have expected a spectacular miracle from God to protect and vindicate him, or a demonstration of God’s great power. He experiences heavy winds, fire and an earthquake but in none of them does he hear God speak. Rather it’s in the tiny whispering sound of God speaking in a gentle breeze that puts him at ease and gives him security and courage to leave the cave.
Likewise in today’s gospel the apostles have a similar scare. We’re all familiar with the story and we can all relate to the fear the apostles had. In order to cut the apostles some slack here’s a little bit of trivia. In Jewish folklore only God could walk on water and no one can see God and live. So if a person thinks he sees someone walking on the water it must be a ghost! Besides, there was also a superstition there were monsters at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee which likely played into the apostles alarm as well. And the way to get rid of ghosts was to scream and shout which is exactly what the apostles did until Jesus told them, “Take courage; it is I.”
It’s good for us to realize Jesus was fully human so he too faced fear. On two occasions in the gospel we see Jesus afraid. On one occasion anticipating his passion Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled.” At Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion again anticipating his suffering and death, he prayed to his Father to let this cup pass him by. Jesus prayed and his prayer was answered and he received the strength to face his passion by following His Father’s will, “not my will, but yours be done.” In both instances he prayed to his Father and in prayer he got the strength to face the difficult situation.
Like the apostles we all from time to time become frightened and worry about all kinds of things and like the apostles we might believe the Lord is with us but our trust can easily evaporate. We tend to panic when a sudden severe storm arises in our lives and things get out of control. Like Peter we may start out confident, but soon we notice the wind is really strong and the water is really deep. Our confidence quickly turns to fear and if the wait for help is prolonged we get upset and think God doesn’t care and has forgotten us.
But that’s never the case. Just as in today’s gospel Jesus saves the apostles so maybe not every time but many times he will come to us in some way usually through the help of those near to us saying, “Take courage; it is I! Do not be afraid.” How often have we heard someone say, “If it wasn’t for the help of so-and-so, I would never have made it through that tough time.”
Storms in life reveal to us our inability to save ourselves and point us to God for help. When Jesus shows up in our life’s storms, we discover we gain strength to do the seemingly impossible. So when troubles and worries come our way, our best approach is the same as Jesus, to pray for the grace to endure and persevere and no matter what happens whether things turn out as we want or not, we continue to trust in Jesus.
Many times when something bad happens the first person blamed is God. But man has a free will and unfortunately some people do bad things to other people. Another consoling aspect of today’s gospel is adversity is not a sign of God’s displeasure, nor prosperity a sign of His favor; that illness is not a sign of inadequate faith, nor good health a sign of great faith. Paradoxically, the storms of life can be a means of blessing. God can and does draw good out of bad. Many times when things are going badly our hearts are more receptive to God. A broken heart is often a door through which Jesus can find entry and he wants so badly to come to us in the midst of our troubles, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
If we permit the chaos and adversities in life to distract and influence us we’ll sink into the very chaos we fear. On the other hand, if we keep our focus on the source of our remedy the One to whom we call out to to save us then the winds just may die down and we’re comforted by God’s presence. May we pray for an increase in faith so that we never doubt that comforting presence in our lives. Some might remark but Father I just don’t feel God’s presence in my life. Ok so if God seems distant the question one should ask themselves is who do you think moved?
When we’re troubled or confused one may want God’s voice to thunder through the air with all the answers to our problems and even presumptuously expect him to fix them. But God speaks in silence, in the still, gentle whisper. Nothing draws human focus quite like a whisper. Being aware of God’s whispering means we must stop our anxious ranting and move close to Him until like the young man and the priest our head is right next to God’s. Then as we listen we’ll find our answer. But better still, we’ll have drawn closer to God in the process.
Jesus proclaims he is the Life. Forget Darwinism, it’s a debunked hypothesis and the big bang which had to have an origin and someone to put it in motion. Things don’t just appear out of nowhere, they have to have a source.
All we need to know is what Genesis tells us that God is from all eternity the origin and creator of all that is. He is the author, giver and sustainer of all life and without him nothing can have life or meaning. We exist because God existed first and He alone can give us the perfect, joyful, abundant life that will last forever.
In the 15th century Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living.” No one knew this better than Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus and our blessed mother.
May is the month dedicated to Mary and today we crowned her as our queen mother. In her first apparition to the 3 shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal she told them civilization has lost its way because it has stopped listening to her Son who is the way, the truth and the life. In each of her apparitions she stressed the importance of praying reverently every day especially the rosary to help her in her only mission which is to bring us her children closer to Jesus, her Son.
She also asked the children to devote themselves to her Immaculate Heart and to console her Immaculate Heart which has been so wounded by the sins of humanity, sins that greatly offend her Son. To emphasize this she showed them a vision of her heart pierced by thorns which confirms Simeon’s prophesy that her heart would be pierced by a sword.
Our Lady also told the children God is very much offended by man’s sins, that sin is the root of all the troubles in the world and she asked them to repent and reject temptations to sin, to sacrifice in reparation for sin and to pray, especially the rosary, to obtain the graces needed to overcome sin which again terribly offends God. Her maternal advice and instructions during these apparitions were not just for Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta but for all of us.
Next weekend we celebrate Mothers Day and Mary is the model of authentic motherhood. This is one area our society has it terribly wrong. It has lost its way because it has deviated from the truth and the spoils are 10s of millions of innocent lives. Every female who gets pregnant is a mother at the moment of conception. The Church teaches at the moment of conception God infuses a human soul into the conceptus i.e. it’s a human person at conception. But our society has lost its way in reference to the sacredness of the marital embrace, emphasis on “marital” and tragically to appease consciences a lie is perpetrated that it’s simply a mass of cells, that’s it’s not a person in utero but only after birth and now that’s even being contested.
So what is our task in this endeavor? It’s the same as Mary our Mother gave to the children at Fatima and that is to pray especially the rosary every day for peace and for the conversion of sinners. It is hoped through our prayers, penance and acts of reparation the grace of the Holy Spirit, the spouse of Mary, the mother of Jesus, will renew in the hearts of all mothers the sacredness and dignity of their vocation given to them by God to be good and holy mothers. May Mary, the mother of the way, the truth, and the life be their model who trusts God the Father and will take a leap of faith just as Jason did and by the example of her fiat say let it be done not my way but your way Lord and according to your word.