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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our worshipping in these last days of the Church year is often difficult, I think, because these readings are just hard to hear.  The readings from Revelation this week have been confusing, to say the least, and maybe even a little frightening.  And even if we could ignore the fright of the Revelation, well the Gospel is a bit more violent this morning than we’d like to experience first thing in the morning, I think.

But there is a spiritual principle at work here.  We are being called to mindfulness.  If during this liturgical year we’ve been a little lax, or even have become complacent, these readings are calling us to wake up lest we miss what God is doing.  God is bringing the whole of creation to its fulfillment, and we are called to be witnesses of it.  We dare not be like those who missed the time of their visitation.  We have been given the wonderful gift of Christ’s presence in our lives all year long, and we are asked to look back at where that wonderful gift has taken us.

And if we haven’t come as far as we should, then we are called to wake up and realize what’s slipping away from us.  We must not be left out of the kingdom, all our hopes smashed to the ground, all because we didn’t recognize that our greatest hope was right in front of us all the time. We know the time is running short.  The days are shorter, and night approaches more quickly than we’d like.  The leaves have gone from the trees.  The nip in the air has turned to cold and even frost.  These are the physical manifestations of creation groaning to come to its fulfillment, at least for the meteorological year.

But if the encroaching winter leaves us empty and aching for warmth, then these final days of the Church year might find us also aching for the warmth of the kingdom, that kingdom we were created to live in all our days.  Let us not be like Jerusalem; we dare not miss the time of our visitation!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I’ve often heard stories of those who grew up in the great depression.  Many years later, they still had deeply engrained in them the scrupulous care for everything they have that was etched into their very being during that horrible time in our history.  They spent a lifetime wasting nothing, which was a good thing, except it sometimes spiraled into hoarding things.  They would eat leftovers well past their freshness dates.  It was just their response to having nothing, so completely understandable.

And that’s the lens through which I think we need to see this week’s Gospel parable.  Here Jesus presents the very familiar story of a rich man entrusting his slaves with a great deal of wealth before he sets off on a long journey.  But because this is such a familiar parable, I think it often gets interpreted wrongly.  Often this parable gets turned into a lesson on sharing your gifts with others, but that’s not actually what’s going on here.  The word “talents” here does not mean what we mean when we use that word: here we are not talking about gifts or abilities.  No, a talent was a unit of money, and a large sum of money at that.  Scholars suggest that a talent was equal to something like one thousand days’ wages.  So think about it, even the servant who only received one talent actually received quite a bit – he received what the average person would earn in a little over three years!  That’s a lot of money for anyone.

So we have this huge amount of money, given as a gift.  And that gift is being given, not to whom we would expect: not to senior advisers to the master, people who would have been in charge of his estate and his business transactions.  No, the text says he called in his “servants” – so we are talking here about slaves, slaves – not business advisers.  And so these slaves are getting ten talents, five talents, and one talent – all of them are getting a considerable amount of money!

And we know the story.  Two of them take what they have and very successfully invest it and when the master returns, are able to hand over the original sum with one hundred per cent interest.  Very impressive, especially for a slave!  But the slave who received just a “little” (even though it was certainly still a lot of money), out of fear buries it in the ground and gives it back to the master untouched, with nothing to show for it.  It’s much like a person having gone through something like the great depression placing money under a mattress rather than trust the banks, which they saw fail miserably in their lifetimes.

That’s the backstory, and there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get at it.  We’ve established that the gift they are receiving – even the slave who received little – is worth an incredible amount of money, especially to a slave who would never have the opportunity to see such wealth if not for the trust the master has placed in them.  We could almost understand, I think, if a servant hoarded the wealth entrusted to him, or used it for himself and his family.  So that the third servant even gave it back seems like a good thing. 

I guess we have to unpack though, what the talent, the money, represents.  Here, these slaves have received something very great, some inestimable wealth.  What could that possibly be?  We should be able to see this pretty well.  What’s of inestimable value for us?  Well, of course, it’s God’s love, grace, and favor, which is undeservedly ours and given to us without merit.  That’s what the God, the master, was entrusting to his servants.

So just for background, this is yet another indictment of the Pharisees and religious establishment of the time.  They were the ones who, because Christ was not yet present in the world, received just one talent.  They received that in the form of the covenant and the law that was the basis of their religion.  And let’s just acknowledge that God choosing them among all the nations was a huge sum of grace!  Yet, their practice was to protect it so scrupulously by attending to the minutiae of the 613 laws of the Torah, that they missed the opportunity to really invest God’s love in the world and grow the faith to full stature.

So we disciples can’t be like that.  We can’t have the faith taken away from us and be tossed out to wail and grind our teeth.  We have to take the faith we’ve been given, the grace we have received in baptism, and invest it mightily in the world, without fear, so that everyone will come to know the Lord and we would all go on to be put in charge of greater things, in the kingdom of heaven.  That is our vocation in the world, brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have to get that right.  We can’t cower in fear, or think our faith is too little, or we don’t know enough.  In Matthew’s Gospel, fear is a huge sin.  “Do not be afraid” is a term we see over and over in the readings.  We have to be bold disciples and make sure that Christ is known everywhere we go, everywhere life takes us.  That is the only acceptable response to God’s love.

We have come here today on the second-to-last Sunday of the Church year.  Next week, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, and then look forward to a new year as we begin the season of Advent.  And so it is important that we take today’s Gospel parable seriously.  We need to spend some time reflecting on how well we have invested God’s grace and love in the world around us.  Have we been good examples to our family and others?  Have we been people of integrity in our workplaces, schools and community?  Have we served those who are in need out of love for Christ?  Have we been zealous to grow in our spiritual lives?  Have we taken time to root sin out of our life, and to receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance?  Have we been unafraid to witness to our faith in every situation?  In this most difficult year, have we been able to get beyond ourselves to care enough about others to do what we can to keep people healthy in the face of a pandemic, to respect people of every race, color and creed, to witness to life and vote according to our formed consciences, to keep the doors of discussion open so that understanding can grow?

If we can’t answer all these questions affirmatively, we have some new-Church-year’s resolutions to make.  Because, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, brothers and sisters, the alternative is wailing and grinding of teeth.  And forever is a long time to be doing that!  No; God forbid.  Our desire is to hear those wonderful words from our Lord one day: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master’s joy.”

Categories
Homilies Saints

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin

Today’s readings
Mass for the school children.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who was called “Mother Cabrini” during her life, was a humble woman of great faith and fortitude.  Because of poor health, she was refused entrance to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, the religious community that had educated her.  But in 1880, along with seven other young women, Frances founded the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The pope sent her to New York, where she intended to found an orphanage.  The house they were to use turned out not to be available, and the bishop advised her to return to Italy.  But she stayed, and eventually founded not only that one orphanage, but 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. 

Frances worked hard to educate Italian immigrants, providing for their religious education as well.  She established schools and orphanages despite the great obstacles she often faced.  She later traveled all over the world, establishing these institutions in Europe, Central and South America, and all over the United States.  She was relentless in this work until the day of her death.  She died on December 22, 1917 at Columbus hospital in Chicago, which she also founded.  In 1946, she was canonized by Pope Pius XII.  She was the first American citizen to be canonized a saint.  She is the patron saint of immigrants.

Our Gospel today urges us to be working hard for the Kingdom of God, because we don’t know when our Lord will return to the earth and take us home.  We want to be found busy in God’s service and we want to be strong in our relationship with Jesus when that great day comes.  As the end of our Church year comes in just a couple of weeks, the readings right now have us thinking about the end of time, because we don’t know when that will happen.  When it does, we want to be rejoicing because we have worked hard to be able to celebrate that day.  Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is a great example of a person who did what she could to help those who were in need.  She knew our Lord very well, because she saw his face in the poor immigrants who came to her.  Blessed are we if we meet our Lord in that same way, and he finds us ready to rejoice with him when he returns!

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Church Homilies

The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.  Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s church, but that’s not completely true.  As the Bishop of Rome, his Cathedral Church is the Lateran Basilica, once dedicated to our Savior, but now named for Saint John the Baptist.  This site has served as the Cathedral church for the pope ever since the first structure was built in the late 300s.  It served until the pope was moved to Avignon, and upon returning, it was found to have been destroyed.  The present structure was commissioned in the 1600s and is one of the most massive churches in Rome.  Because it is the parish church of the pope, it is in some ways considered to be the parish church for all Catholics and the mother church of Christendom.  Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication on November 9, 324 by Pope Saint Sylvester I.

The disagreement between Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel reading today showed what was really a difference of opinion on what Church is.  The many services that were being offered outside the Temple were required for the sacrifice, so they supported the worship that went on there.  In a sense then, they were legitimate enterprises.  But Jesus came to bring about Church in a whole new way.  His uncharacteristically violent reaction was frustration that those who should know better did not see what God really wanted in worship.  He didn’t want birds or animals, he wanted people’s hearts so that he could re-create them anew.

Any feast like this is an opportunity for us to take a step back and look at this thing we call Church.  The misunderstanding in the Gospel between Jesus and the Jews tells us that we cannot view Church as just a building.  The reality of Church is brought to great perfection in the Body of Christ, and we see that because of Christ, the Church is a living, breathing thing that takes us in and out of time and space to be the body we were created to be.  So today we celebrate Church; we peel back the Church’s many layers, touching and learning the concrete, living the experiential, asking for the intercession of the heavenly, and yearning to be caught up in the eternal.  The Church is our Mother who has given us birth in the Spirit and who nurtures us toward eternal life.

The river of God’s life flows forth from the Church to baptize and sanctify the whole world unto the One who created it all.  The Church has its foundation in Christ, who also raises it up to eternity.  Blessed are all those who find their life in its sanctuary.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So here’s one of those occasions when we have what seems to be a pretty odd parable in the Gospel reading.  It’s a story that challenges our notion of who Jesus is and what he was about – it almost seems in this story that he’s being “un-Jesus-like” in the story.  But hang on to that idea that for a second, because I think it will become clear what’s really going on as we unravel the story.  I always maintain that when a Scripture gets us riled up, then God is trying to tell us something important, and I definitely think that’s what’s going on here.

So, first, we have to understand the details of the parable.  This probably doesn’t sound like any wedding to which you have ever been.  Wedding customs in first century Palestine were a little different than those we know today.  The wedding was a rather drawn-out affair, beginning with the betrothal.  After that, the couple was basically married, but would not live together until the sometimes-complex negotiations regarding the dowry were complete.  When that was done, the bridegroom would journey to the bride’s house and bring her to his own house.  Then there would be a splendid feast that would go on for several days, complete with feasting and abundant wine and all kinds of festivity.

So the parable we have in today’s Gospel puts us in the moment of time just as the negotiations are complete and they are expecting the bridegroom to go to the bride’s house.   The virgins are there ready to begin the great feast, but the bridegroom is delayed a bit, and they all fall asleep.  However, that is not the problem.  The problem is that half of them were unprepared.

And here I think is the point that gets us riled up a bit.  I think we bristle at the whole notion of the wise virgins’ refusal to share their oil with the foolish.  Jesus was always for sharing and charity, so what’s the deal here?  Well, since we know Jesus regularly encourages kindness to others, I think we can safely conclude that is not the point of the parable and move on.  The point of the parable then, may well be the oil itself.  What kind of oil is he really talking about?  Of what is this oil symbolic?

The Church Fathers help us a bit there.  They talk about the oil as the oil of salvation.  This would be an oil that can only be had in relationship with Jesus.  It’s an oil that can’t be begged, borrowed, stolen or bought at an all-night Walgreens.  We fill the flasks of our lives with that oil through daily prayer, devotion, the sacraments, and a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior.  So the foolish virgins were looking for oil too late — too late not just because it is midnight, but too late because they should have been filling their flasks with this oil all along.  It’s not the wise virgins’ fault they did not share: indeed this is an oil that cannot be shared, any more than one could live another’s life for that person.

What astounds me is that five of these virgins showed up unprepared.  We may not be familiar with first-century Palestinian wedding customs, but they certainly were.  So they would have known the wedding would go on for some days.  How is it, then, that they forgot to bring extra oil?  Even if the bridegroom had not been delayed, they certainly would have needed it!  What was so important to them that they forgot to attend to the most basic part of their job in preparation for the wedding banquet?  It would be like the maid of honor in a wedding today forgetting to plan a wedding shower – unthinkable!

Just so, we certainly have nothing more important to do than to show up at the wedding feast of heaven with our flasks filled with the oil of salvation.  No other concern should distract us for our most basic job on earth, which is preparing for our life in heaven.  We must not be deterred from prayer, devotion, good works of charity, fasting, and zealous reception of the sacraments lest we hear those awful words the bridegroom spoke to the foolish virgins: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

When we get to the feast, if our flasks are not full, it is already too late.  The last Sunday of the Church year is two weeks from today.  So this is a very good time to take a look back and see how well we have filled our flasks in the last year.  Have we been zealous to attend to our spiritual lives?  Have we been careful to be sure we have received the Sacrament of Penance on a regular basis?  We have safely had confessions here for over five months, so we have it down to a science.  Like everything else these days, it’s not the same, but it is still good.  You still get sacramental grace!  Similarly, going back to Mass isn’t okay for everyone, and it’s definitely filled with inconvenience, and we still don’t have an obligation to attend Mass, but we have Mass, and if you can come, there’s no substitute for the Eucharist.  That’s always the same.  Beyond the sacraments, do we take time to reflect on our relationship with God and try our best to live our lives as we have been called?  Have we even thought about what is the purpose of our lives right now?  Are we, at this point in life’s journey, walking with our Lord through good times and bad?  Or have we veered off the path, not even concerned about having the oil of salvation?  Have we been content with oil that does not burn brightly and which runs out just when we need it?

If that’s where we have found ourselves this year, then we have some work to do in the coming weeks.  As we wind up this year and begin the next, we need to steadfastly resolve to fill our flasks to overflowing with the oil of salvation in the year ahead.  The only way we can do that is by zealously seeking our God, praying the prayer of the Psalmist:

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

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All Souls Homilies

Remembrance Mass for the Souls of All the Faithful Departed

Tonight, we have come together to do what the writer of the books of Maccabees insist is a holy and pious thing: to pray for the souls of the dead.  We have come together also to do what the Liturgy of the Rite of Christian Burial tells us to do: to pray also for ourselves.  We gather to care for our loved ones who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, and we gather to let our Lord care for us, we who have been touched by love and wounded by loss, that we might be graced by faith.

I love what the third Eucharistic Prayer offers for Masses for the dead.  We’ll use it tonight, as I do for almost every funeral, but it’s nice sometimes to reflect on those words and let them enter into our prayer more fully.  I’m going to break it down and reflect on each section of it.  So the prayer begins: “Remember your servant … whom you have called from this world to yourself. Grant that he (she) who was united with your Son in a death like his, may also be one with him in his Resurrection…”  Here the Church recognizes that our God does not leave us alone in death.  Death was never God’s will for the human person, rather death came as a remedy for sin, as Saint Paul reminds us so well.  Saint Ambrose writes that if death had not been introduced, living life in this broken world without end would have been an unbelievable, unbearable burden.  Death gives us the possibility of new life in the kingdom of God, with the freedom that he always intended for us.  Notice too, that in this prayer, the Church recognizes that our God, whose intent is always for our salvation, took on our lowly form and assumed all its defects, including the capacity to die.  And so of the many ways that we are united with our Lord, one of them is through death.  And we recognize that as death was not the end for him, so if we have faith and follow our Lord, it will not be the end for us either.

The prayer continues: “…when from the earth he will raise up in the flesh those who have died, and transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body.”  Just as we have been united in death with our Lord, so he intends that we would be united with him in resurrection.  Our Lord intends that the glory of the Resurrection of our Lord would open for us the way to the Kingdom of God, that Kingdom for which we were created in the first place, that Kingdom which is the destination of our life-long journey.  In resurrection, we will be transformed.  The weaknesses of our flesh will be redeemed, our woundedness will be bound up, our diseases will be healed, our sin will be wiped away, leaving nothing but the radiant glory of the very face of God.  Can you even imagine how wonderful that glory will be?  Holy Church teaches and insists that our bodies are not so profane nor so damaged that they can’t become glorious, by being united with our Lord in resurrection.

We continue to pray: “To our departed brothers and sisters, too, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance into your kingdom.”  Here the Church acknowledges that the dead depend on our prayers.  We implore the Lord to give admittance to the Kingdom to our loved ones.  We pray that their sins would be forgiven, that their weaknesses would be overlooked, that their relationships would be purified, that whatever was less than glorious in them might be made fit for the Kingdom of God.  The Church recognizes that most of our dead brothers and sisters continue their journey to the Kingdom after death.  They do it with different, more splendid graces than we have on this earth, they take it up with perhaps fewer distractions than those that divert our attention from the goal.  Whatever is not purified on earth can and must be purified by the gift of Purgatory, for those who have faith, and for those who need grace.

Finally, the Church recognizes that we are all headed for the same goal, we and our loved ones who have died.  The prayer says: “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow in the world all that is good.”  The Kingdom is where all of our sadness is erased, and with eyes free from the tears of this life, we can finally see God as he is, and not as we would have him.  We can then be like him, caught up, really, in his life, one with him forever in Christ, receiving all that is good for all eternity.

Our greatest work of charity is to pray that our deceased loved ones would receive all these graces, this wondrous and holy gifts, from our God, who deeply longs that each one of his children would return to be one with him.  In praying for them, the Church extends its ministry to all of us who mourn, enabling us to know the love of God in our time of grief and sadness.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life, all who believe in him will not die forever.  Death was never intended as our forever, as our final stop.  For to God, all are alive, just in different ways.  Praise God that he gives us life, and mercy, and grace, and resurrection.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Go out to the highways and hedgerows
and make people come in that my home may be filled.

Way back on Friday, we began hearing the story from Saint Luke’s gospel about the time Jesus was invited to a dinner at the home of one of the leading Pharisees.  At that time, Jesus performed a miraculous cure for a man who suffered from dropsy.  In today’s passage, Jesus is still at that table.  In this part of the story, one of the people at table says to him, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.”  While not disagreeing with that person, Jesus intends to clarify who will be at the table and who will not.  Those who will be dining in the Kingdom are those who intentionally live in it.  While the Pharisees may have thought that meant it was they who would be blessed, Jesus tells a parable to clarify the matter.

The parable illustrates that those who were invited were occupied with other matters: a new field, a new team of oxen, a new spouse.  Their rejection forced the host to offer the dinner to a new group of people: those outside of the accepted group.  And so his servants went out into the streets and alleys, hedgerows and highways to fill the house, because none of the original invitees would be welcome at the table.  So Jesus is doing something new.  Since the religious establishment had found other more pressing matters than relationship with their God, he would now turn to those who were rejected and marginalized, and invite them to dine in the Kingdom.

But that command to the servant is for us, his servants. We’re commanded, as that servant was, to bring people to the table of the Kingdom of God.  We’re commanded, in the very strong language of this gospel passage to “make people come in” that God’s home may be filled.  There’s plenty of room in the Kingdom; the table is large and the spaces at it are plenty.  We are being sent out to the margins to “make people come in.” This demands that we be missionary disciples.  We have to be the ones to help people to know they are welcome, no matter how far they have strayed, no matter who has refused to welcome them in the past.  The mission is always new, and always pressing. If we are serious about serving our God, we have no other choice but to go out looking for dinner guests!

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Homilies Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

I think we all bristle, unfortunately, at the idea of being a saint.  Saints are those super-holy folks who are depicted in artwork and glorified in amazing stories.  We are just ordinary people who struggle with our holiness, at best.  But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way.  Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages.  The Church rejoices in the saints because when someone becomes a saint, the Church recognizes that he or she is definitely in heaven, the goal of all our lives.  That’s what the process of canonization is all about.  And bringing people to heaven is the whole point of the Church.  So, from the many saints of every time and place, we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven.  Thanks be to God!

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way.  There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was.  One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.”  Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there.  Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have made that the business of their lives.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business.  But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way.  Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints.  We can’t be saints all on our own.  We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven.  But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us.  The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

Our Gospel today gives us some help here.  Because all those saints we know about would probably have protested they weren’t saintly themselves.  But these are people who knew the Gospel and lived it in their lives.  These are the ones who were poor in spirit, who mourned, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness.  These are the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  And through it all, they depended on their God who used their hunger for holiness to transform their lives and make them fit for heaven.  And the Good news is that God still does this, and will do this, not just for some people, but for all of us who give our lives to him.

And none of the saints would have said any of this is easy.  Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen.  Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him.  Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus.  But she trusted in Jesus, who was still there and led her to heaven.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be.  We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints.  That journey consists in following the Way who is Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.  He has commanded, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized.  Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways, and will have to work that out in the grace of Purgatory.  We pray for those souls on tomorrow’s feast of All Souls.  But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

Today we, the Church militant, honor the Church triumphant: not only the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Benedict, Michael and Gabriel, Francis and Dominic, but also those saints that God alone has known.  We glory in their triumph that was made possible by them joining themselves to Christ.  We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away.  If God could do that in their lives, he can certainly do that in ours too.  Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can fill us with saintly attributes: strength in weakness, compassion in the face of need, witness to faith in times when society lacks direction, and so much more.

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we call to mind those official, canonized saints.  But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well.  The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God. What could be better than that?

This is a lot of work, and it’s not easy to live a saintly life, but Jesus makes a promise today to those who strive to do so: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!”

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus was always on the lookout for people who needed healing.  The ones we hear about in the Gospel stories, like the one we just heard today, were needs for physical healing, sure, but the stories also tell us about the need for spiritual healing.  Sometimes our bodies are sick, but sometimes our souls are sick too.

The man in today’s Gospel reading had what they called dropsy.  I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up.  Basically, it’s a build-up of fluid in some part of the body, very often a limb like a leg, or even in the foot or ankle, or hand.  Today, we might call that edema, and usually it is caused by some other disease, like congestive heart failure.  Usually people with this condition have trouble moving around or really doing anything in their everyday life, so I’m sure the man in the Gospel story was very happy to be rid of it.

All this happened at a dinner in the home of one of the leading Pharisees.  The Pharisees were a faction of religious leaders at that time.  They were all observing Jesus carefully, and we now know they were doing that so that they might have some reason to discredit him and ignore his teaching, and even to get rid of him.  Eventually, their suspicion of him brought Jesus to the cross.  Maybe we wonder why they were like that: well, it could have been jealousy.  Or maybe they just felt threatened.  Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.

You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life.  But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done.  People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way.  That had to make them green with envy.  And, yes, they probably felt threatened.  The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve.  And Jesus was successful while they were not: people were being healed, they hung on his teaching, and followed him wherever he went.

But how had those Pharisees lost the way?  Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different or surprising message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love.  That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow for them, the laws and rules became more important than the love.

The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long.  Jesus wanted to help people to experience God’s love, forgiveness of their sins, and true healing – healing from the inside out.  It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by the rules.  That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross.  He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live.  Thanks be to God!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The injunction for wives to be submissive to their husbands, given in our first reading, certainly offends our modern ears.  That’s just not the kind of thing we say in this society, at least not in these days.  Yet this was the norm in the society in which Saint Paul ministered.  So that command would hardly have raised an eyebrow.  What would have been shocking in Saint Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies.  Indeed, Saint Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships.

So how would it look now?  Today, I think Saint Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship.  Saint Paul would certainly say that men and women should work together to foster families in which God’s love could be shown and made manifest in the world through them.  

The real point of this reading, we must remember, is that the love of husband and wife echoes the love between Christ and the Church.  He says this in the second-to-last line of the reading: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”  The marriage of man and woman is intended to be an icon, a reflection, a window where all can see the marriage of God to the Church and to the world.  It’s a challenge and a decision that married couples must make every day, as well as those of us wed to the Church through Holy Orders.

May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.