Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – October 22, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians 1:1-5b
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 22:15-21

Dear Reader,

The opening words of Isaiah’s prophecy in this Sunday’s first reading should stun us.  Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp…  The Hebrew word for anointed is the origin of the word messiah that becomes, by way of the Greek, Christ.  The Jews revere this powerful and significant word.  Cyrus is the only Gentile on whom the title is bestowed in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The fact that a Jew would call any Gentile the anointed of God is astounding.

Who was Cyrus?  He was the Persian King whose armies routed the Babylonians, the ones who had held the Israelites in captivity, enslaving them as their ancestors had been enslaved in Egypt.  The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.  For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you (Cyrus) by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.  YHWH knew Cyrus intimately and chose him, the Prophet said, and through him brought about the deliverance of Judah that would result in the Jews being able to return to Jerusalem.  Whether Cyrus ever knew of his favorable standing with Israel’s God is not important.  The lesson is that God is in charge and can choose even a Gentile, even a non-believer, to accomplish YHWH’s will.

To what can we liken this case in order to understand its impact?  Think of the horror of the Holocaust.  In large measure, Jewish people, among others, were enslaved in the prison camps, having been taken from their homes and their way of life, to be shipped off in boxcars and enslaved in the holding camps where torture and death reigned.  The skies darkened with the smoke from the crematoria’s chimneys.  Millions were gassed.  Other hundreds of thousands slowly starved to death.  I don’t know if Cyrus had a counterpart during that terrible time, but the eyes of faith will recognize YHWH working through the allied forces as they brought about Judah’s deliverance, freeing the survivors and allowing them to return home.

Faith is a gift, the result of God’s grace achieving its purpose.  We say we believe, but that is not a result of anything we have done other than to cooperate with grace.  Paul said it in practically every salutation he wrote to the various churches, as he does in today’s greeting to the Thessalonians.  God chose the Thessalonians – and the Galatians, and the Romans, and the Corinthians – through Paul’s preaching.  To varying degrees the churches responded with the work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Letter to the Thessalonians resulted from a crisis of faith that rose from their taking from Paul’s preaching that they would live to see the Day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return in glory.  Some of their members were dying before the realization of that day.  Paul reminds them of their faith and urges them to live in hope.  Hope has been defined as the confident assurance (confident = with faith) that nothing will separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.  To live in faith is to live in Christ and to remember that God loves them.  The challenge is to live in that love day by day in their various labors, believing the Good News Paul announced.  Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ who will not disappoint.  Paul preached to them in earnest, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will empower them to be faithful to the end.

You, dear reader, believe with that same faith of the Thessalonians.  Live with their hope, too, that hope that Paul is trying to encourage in us.  You are loved by God and chosen by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to believe that Jesus is Lord.  Through your Baptism you have put on Christ and been endowed with the Priesthood of the Baptized.  Your labors contribute to the building up of the Kingdom and hasten the day of the Lord’s glorious return.  It is about love, loving as Jesus loves.  It is about serving, serving as Jesus serves.  If you are willing to love and to serve the other, the poor and the disenfranchised, the off scouring of society, those deemed unlovable, you will see Jesus there and know where hope reside.

Bill and Melinda Gates, through their Foundation, make tremendous efforts through their hands-on charitable work with AIDS patients in Africa.  Their involvement in the work is genuine.  Their hope is to find a cure and alleviate suffering. Bill has said that he leaves the believing part to Melinda, a Catholic.  Believers recognize God working through both of them, just as they might see Christ in those suffering ones to whom they minister.

Recently I saw a woman working rehabilitation with her husband who had suffered severe stroke.  She rejoiced with each step, faltering though it might be, that her husband made.  The love they share is palpable.  So, it would seem, is their faith.  Their hope will not be disappointed.

Recently a mother told me about her son, a second grader.  She was waiting impatiently to pick him up after school.  She saw him coming toward the car and was preparing to scold him for being tardy when he turned away from the car and headed toward another student standing alone.  She watched the two exchange a few words before her son turned again toward his waiting transportation.  When he got into the car, his mother asked him what he had been doing.  He told her, “Nobody likes that boy.  I didn’t want him to go home with that thought in his head.  I wanted him to know that I was his friend.”  She didn’t reprimand her son for keeping her waiting.

You cannot hear about the wonderful work of the Gates Foundation in Africa without being touched.  You must be moved by the heroics of the wife with her disabled husband.  You might even get a lump in your throat as you read about the second grader, who, by the way, recently was Confirmed and received his first Holy Communion.  We didn’t even mention the efforts of those to minister to the storm victims in Puerto Rico and rescue the victims of the earthquake in Mexico.  What if their actions should prompt you to move in a direction you would rather not go?  Jesus can do that and you will have to make a decision.

There are not a few who are angered by Pope Francis’s urging us to be a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  He washes the feet of the poor to illustrate his appeal.  He breakfasts with street people.  Down through the centuries that has not been the image the church presented to the world.  More and more Popes took on the finery of monarchs, as did bishops who lived in splendid mansions.  Francis lives in a ground-level apartment.  He doesn’t wear splendid robes.   How many of those who have wandered away would return to the practice of their faith if the image of a poorer church serving the needs of the poor reemerged?

In the Gospel, the Pharisees plot to entrap Jesus because they do not want to accept his message.  He would have them change their lives in ways that they would rather not.  No one can be indifferent to Jesus.  One has to decide one way or the other.  The fawning ambassadors of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, those who accept King Herod, want to gather information that will contribute to Jesus’ execution.  They want to be rid of the prick to their consciences that he is.  Matthew’s linking of the two groups indicates compromise on the part of the Pharisees that will play out in the verbal trap in which they try to ensnare Jesus.

Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?  Either way Jesus should answer, they are sure they will have him.  Either he will be set against the Romans leading to his crucifixion, or against the Jews leading to his being stoned to death.  Show me the coin.  The Pharisees must have wondered how he knew they would have the coin since it bore the image of Caesar, something they should not handle or have part in.  Looking at the coin presented in their hands, and then looking into their eyes, he asks them: Whose image is this and whose inscription?

When they acknowledge that the image and inscription are Caesar’s, Jesus impales them on the horns of a dilemma.  Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs o God.  Those confronting him supposedly are men of faith, followers of the Law.  From that perspective, what can possibly belong to Caesar and, therefore, be repaid, when everything belongs to God?

It is easy to say, gotcha!  But that is not the point that Jesus is making.  Rather, the challenge is to be what they profess to be.  Faith does not result in a life lived apart from the world.  Jesus challenges us to look at the world through the eyes of faith and to endorse God’s omnipotence and love for all, even those we might b tempted to hate.  Jesus will be condemned for eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and other categories of sinners.  That’s almost as bad as handling a coin with the image of Caesar on it.

If we hear the Gospel, we cannot be indifferent.  We have to decide one way or the other, to love or not to love.  To walk with Jesus on the way and imitate him is to decide and to realize that that faith life is lived in a complex world peopled by those who believe and by those who do not.  It is to live in a world of political regimes.  For the believer, the constant question centers about what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.  Then s/he must act accordingly.

What has love got to do with it?

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Didymus

 

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TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – October 15, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 25:6-10a
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 22:1-14

Dear Reader.

Always remember that we experience The Living Word of God each Sunday as the Liturgy of the Word washes over us.  The historical context of each reading has a bearing on our interpretation.  But, too, the readings impact us in the here and now, as each of us hears them in his/her lived situation.

Isaiah prophesied to a people broken and in exile, a people burdened with the memory of their beloved Jerusalem in ruins, a people enslaved with heavy judgments on their heads.  Hear the Prophet in that context and imagine the elation if you believed the promise that God would act in that way in your life, not only that God would treat you to a lush banquet, but also would wash away your shame and restore your dignity.  Hear of rich food and choice wines.  If you were half starved and such a menu the stuff of distant memory, wouldn’t those words ring in your consciousness?  You might even find yourself salivating.  On the other hand, if you have never been tempted to despair in a situation that seemed hopeless, never been hungry, if you have never been the object of reproach, or never wept the tears of the pariah, Isaiah’s words might strike you as lush poetry, the vision fanciful, but your heart might not be touched.

If you dare to admit to the vulnerable you, or to call up painful memories of rejection or betrayal, or of anything you fear, you will find also a longing for deliverance and the end of the tyranny of those things you remember or fear, even if the only thing you fear is death.  At the same time, your compassionate heart may be touched by the images of a war-torn people crying out in anguish as they pull their children from the rubble and as they bury their dead.  You might be brought to tears as you see images of children, covered with flies, too weak to flick them away because the little ones are starving to death.  Again, you might have watched recent footage of people whose homes were blown away in the might of hurricanes Harvey, Jose, or Maria.  Holding these broken ones up in prayer will make Isaiah’s words resonate as you are reminded of the faithful God who delivers and saves.

Paul, grateful to the Philippians whose generosity has been poured out to help meet his needs, reminds his benefactors that he has seen both sides.  He knows what it is like to be poor.  He remembers times when he lived with abundance.  He knows what it is like to be starving, even as he relishes memories of having been well fed.  God graces the good times and is the source of all blessings, just as God is his strength in times of desperation.  In all of these memories, Paul gives thanks for the constancy of the Philippians and their generosity there for him in the good times and the bad.   He tells them that God remembers, too, and will reward their generosity in God’s great gift that is Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father, glory forever and ever.  Amen.

We come to Matthew’s Gospel and listen to Jesus as he tells the parable that begins: The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  In its historical context the parable may well speak of the generosity of God’s grace in calling a people to be God’s own.  The parable may also speak of that people’s infidelity and their cruelty to the Prophets who delivered God’s message to the people.  This is tantamount to the chosen rejecting the invitation to the banquet.  In the face of their rejecting the invitation and the violence done to the servants, the Prophets, who tried to deliver the invitation to the banquet, the king becomes enraged with the people and destroys their city.  The parable may well have been written with the Fall of Jerusalem in mind and taken as a sign that God has rejected the Jews who had thrown Jesus’ followers out of the synagogue, just as they had rejected Jesus.  The Gentiles who have accepted Jesus are now the recipients of the invitation.

That may well be the historical context and the sufferings of those first believers may explain the theme of rejection in the parable; but the idea that God has rejected the Jews must be banished from our thoughts, even as we banish thoughts of a vengeful God in the person of the king.

If we stand in awe of the gift of faith that is ours, of that grace that enables us to recognize Jesus as Lord, and the universality of God’s love, of that invitation to come to the Table where we celebrate Eucharist, then we hear the message that can assist our ongoing transformation in Christ.

If we have any sense of our own unworthiness, any sense of being loved by God far beyond our worth, then we begin to get the point.

I urge you to think of that moment when you first came to faith, when you first could say: I believe.  The difference between all that followed that moment from what preceded it is the proverbial difference between day and night.  Do you remember your joy when you knew that God meant all of this for you and that Jesus had called you by name and said: Come follow me?  You responded with a fearful but firm, yes.  Again, proverbially speaking, that has made all the difference in the world.

But what about the poor wretch who came into the banquet without a wedding garment and then was thrown out into the exterior darkness as a result?  Is the offense the same as that committed by a gentleman’s showing up at a fine restaurant without a jacket and tie?  On one level, perhaps.  It is quite possible that something far more important and significant is involved here.

As you come through the main entrance of the church into the worship space, your first encounter ought to be with the Baptismal Font that is strategically placed on the axis line between the entrance and the Altar.  The symbolism ought to be obvious.  There is only one way to the Table and that is through the Font.  What happens in the Font?  The person being baptized enters what can be called both a tomb and a womb.  The one responding to the invitation enters the abundant waters to die to selfishness and whatever is of sin, to be reborn into a new life that is union with Christ.  Coming out of the water, as a sign of having put on Christ, that one is clothed in a white robe – in the parable, a wedding garment.  The decision to accept the invitation to come to the Table has to be major and life altering.  Through the Font is the only way to be initiated into this communion of believers.  To enter into Eucharist otherwise makes no sense and is a contradiction.

We don’t have to dwell on the final words of rejection of the one without the wedding garment.  He also stands for those who refuse to change their lives, refuse to repent.  They should make the decision themselves before they approach the Table.  In our tradition, that decision is theirs.  No minister should presume to make the decision for them, that is, refuse them access to Communion.

For our part, we rejoice in the call that is ours, and each day say yes to the grace of ongoing conversion that is offered us in the Eucharist.  We have been clothed in the wedding garment.  The challenge is to live the reality signified by the robe.  We have put on Christ.  In him we have been baptized.  Our every action should begin in him and proceed through him, as an expression of God’s love that comes to us through Christ.

So, never forget that in Baptism you are identified with Christ.  God loves you with the same love that God has for Christ.  I heard one preacher say that God can’t tell the difference between the baptized and Christ.  Be that as it may.  All the more important that we strive to correspond to that grace and live the life that is ours in the One in whom we have been baptized.  That means that we have to be willing to love as Christ loves.  Every one.  Every day.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – October 08, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 5:1-7
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 4:6-9
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 21:33-43

What links the first read from the Prophet Isaiah and the reading from Matthew’s Gospel should be clear.  The presenting image in both is The Vineyard.  As obvious as is the connection, we must be careful about the conclusions we draw.  We must place ourselves in the readings, hear them addressed to us, and then see how we interpret them.  I’ll bet the judgment implied in each softens immediately.

Isaiah’s song about his friend’s vineyard sings of disappointment.  All precautions had been taken.  The friend (God) built the protective surrounding wall around the choicest vines he had planted in the richest soil.  Guards watched to fend off marauders.  The winepress awaited the expected lush crop.  The friend had done everything right.  The result” Wild grapes, sour and worthless.  The heartbroken friend intends to abandon the vineyard, tear down the wall and let the boars graze there.

The Prophet sings to a weakened, unobservant people.  This same people, the chosen ones, the vineyard, God lead out of slavery and gave them the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.  God entrusted his name to them.  All the people had to do was be God’s people and let God be their God.  That meant to live in relationship with God, to observe the law that would spell out a lifestyle that would make all other people marvel.  No other people had a relationship with their gods as Israel had with YHWH.  Certainly Israel would have nothing to do with pagan ways.  Shouldn’t that have been obvious?

Ah, but now Israel is compromised, the result, a weakened people.  If the people heard the Prophet, they could have an opportunity for clear hindsight.  When they had been faithful they were strong.  Their infidelity weakened them and left them vulnerable, able to be conquered and enslaved.  The Babylonian Captivity could be God’s judgment on their faithlessness.  They had become wild grapes.

It would be easy to conclude from the prophecy that God would abandon Israel and give up on this people once called Chosen.   There are those who would endorse that interpretation.  But YHWH is a faithful God.  Even if the people wander away, God’s love remains.  When the Babylonian Captivity ended and Israel returned home to Jerusalem, they rejoiced.   They heard the Prophet, recognized their shortcomings and repented.

The Jews will always be the Chosen People of God.  St. John Paul II’s prayer of apology and atonement for abuses inflicted by the Church on the Jewish people attested to that conviction.  Pope Francis condemns anti-Semitism and reaches out to the Jewish people, openly boasting of close friendships with a Rabbi.

What we need to heed in Isaiah’s Song is the call to repentance.

There is a bit of a different slant to the Vineyard parable that Jesus tells in this week’s Gospel.  This time, it isn’t the grapes that go bad.  This time the tenants forget that they are tenants.  The landowner entrusts the vineyard to them, expecting that they yield will be turned over to him when harvest time comes.  With mounting hostility, the tenants reject the successive servants who come to collect the produce – one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  We see in the rich imagery Israel’s history.  The landowner’s servants are the prophets sent to proclaim God’s word to the people.  What should have been the result of each prophecy?  Change of heart.  A welcoming of the word.  Repentance.  The fate of the prophets often times was to be beaten, stoned, and killed.

The landowner, as a last resort, and with confidence that the emissary will be received with reverence and respect, sends his son.  But they beat him, throw him out of the vineyard and kill him.  We see Jesus, beaten, crowned with thorns, led outside the walls of Jerusalem, and crucified.  The parable is Jesus’ prediction of his impending suffering and death.

Perhaps the Gospel writer composed this parable following the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.  People could look on that event and interpret it as God’s judgment.  The relationship between Jewish Christians and their ancestors in faith had become increasingly strained.  They were considered to be a heretical sect and were being thrown out of the synagogues.  Some were being arrested and punished for following the New Way.  The growing numbers of Christians witnessing the Fall of Jerusalem could interpret that vent as sign that God had rejected the Jews and put those wretched men to a wretched death.  Again, there is no shortage of people who would endorse that interpretation.

It is authentic Church teaching that Israel and the Jewish people are God’s chosen people for all time and eternity.  The Church did not supplant Israel to become the new chosen people.  Ours is a favor by adoption.  Jesus fulfilled Israel’s vocation of fidelity to God’s will.  We share in that fulfillment through our Baptism into Christ.  We are the adopted children of God through our identity with Jesus Christ.  Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, himself a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, condemned the idea of God’s rejection of the Jews.  And so must we.

Then what are we to take from the parable?  Most obviously, we ought to be sure that we do not act like the tenants in Matthew’s parable, much less become the wild grapes in Isaiah’s prophetic proclamation.  There is no acceptable excuse for not being what we are called to be.  There is no acceptable excuse for living other than as God’s children, holy and beloved.  That is why we are a Eucharistic people who renew the Lord’s dying and rising, giving thanks to God for the favor that is ours in Christ.  Paul sums it up for us in his directive in the second reading.  Forgive me if I quote it here in its entirety.

Brothers and sisters,

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, / By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, / Make your requests known to God. / Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding/ Will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, / Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, / Whatever is just, whatever is pure, / Whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, / If there is any excellence/ If there is anything worthy of praise, / Think about these things. / Keep on doing what you have learned and received/ And heard and seen in me. / Then the God of peace will be with you.

Sincerely,

Didymus