Tuesday of the 30th Week of Ordinary Time: Be subordinate to one another

Today’s readings

Well, it would be hard to pick a scarier reading to preach about on Halloween than one that starts out with the emotionally-charged sentence, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” It almost makes me want to skip it and preach on the Gospel reading, or even on the Alleluia verse – anything but that reading. But I firmly believe that if we’re going to have that reading, we need to understand it. Certainly it offends our modern sensibilities to hear something about women being subordinate to men. It’s just not done in this society.

Yet it was done in the society in which St. Paul ministered. So his injunction to wives would hardly have raised an eyebrow. What would have been shocking in St. Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies. Indeed, St. Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships. In that culture, the most harmonious families were those in which the wife was submissive to the husband, and the husband loved his wife. Not only that, they were expecting a very near return of Christ, so he didn’t always think people should be married at all. That’s how it looked then.

So how would it look now? Today, I think St. Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship. St. 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.

We have to put aside the emotionally charged words that don’t make sense in today’s society, and instead turn to the heart of the message. We must respect one another and promote families in which God’s love can become real in a world which desperately needs to receive it. May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Take Courage!

“Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.”

These would be wonderfully comforting words to hear in any situation. Who among us does not wish to be called to Jesus? But as joyful as we are to hear these words in good times, they are incredibly comforting in times of sickness and suffering.

“Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.”

About four years ago now, just weeks before Christmas, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was frightened, as you can imagine, and we all shared in her grief as she worked through all the details of surgery and treatment. But she came through it relatively well, and we celebrated Christmas with some relief. But just after I returned to the seminary from Christmas break, my sister called to tell me that my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It was barely a month later, and we were going through it all over again. He had surgery, and treatment which continues even until now.

It was a difficult time certainly for my parents, but really for all of our family too. I myself was unable to even pray about it, because I just didn’t know what to say to God any more. I was blessed to be in a seminary community that reached out to me and prayed me through all of it. Fr. Kevin, our dean of formation, even drove out to Loyola in Maywood during Dad’s long stay there to pray with us. It was a difficult time: two illnesses right in a row really tested our faith, as any kind of ongoing suffering will often do. But the Church knows that, and that’s why we have the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. My parents were both anointed by their pastor before their surgery, and it gave them great comfort and strength to go through all that their illness demanded of them: surgery, chemotherapy, and all the related pain and suffering.

The anointing of the sick is the Church’s way of saying to the sick, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Illness and suffering can lead a person to a place where faith, now tested, begins to fail, and the sick person can turn away from God and the Church. It can be easy to blame God for suffering, or at least for not delivering us from it. Illness and suffering are so hard to understand. The Church teaches that God does not will our suffering, not as a punishment or our fate or anything else. However, God does permit suffering and sickness and death in this broken world, where things are far from perfect and sin is always at work. God knows our grief when we cry out in pain, when we call to Jesus like Bartimaeus, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

And so when we are in the midst of serious illness, or weakened by old age, or preparing for surgery because of serious illness, the Church offers us the Anointing of the Sick. The purpose of this great sacrament is to heal our spirits and our minds, and perhaps to heal our bodies too, if God in his providence sees that to be beneficial to our salvation. We should not wait until we are on our death-beds to come to the sacrament, but to ask to receive it whenever we are seriously ill. In the letter of St. James, we are told, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

At this point, I want to make an editorial comment. So often, in every parish where I’ve been, I have heard people complain that during their time in the hospital, no one came to visit them – not a priest or anyone else. And quite frankly, sometimes priests are guilty of neglecting that incredibly important part of their ministry. I know that I can’t get to the hospital every day, but I go when I can, and I go whenever anyone calls and asks me to go.

That said, there was a time when we would just know that someone from our parish was in the hospital. Those days are gone. There are two of us here for 3800 families and that makes it hard for us to know everything we’d like to know in order to minister to you best. But there is also a law called the Health Insurance Privacy Protection Act, most often called “HIPPA.” You know about HIPPA if you have been to the doctor or hospital in the last few years, because you are given a brochure about your rights and have to sign a release that says you know them. But HIPPA also affects our right to know that you are in the hospital. And that may be okay, because sometimes when people are in the hospital for something routine, they don’t necessarily want everyone to know. But if you’re in for something serious, or things turn bad, we still might never know that. When you are admitted, you absolutely have to tell them – every time – that you are a St. Raphael parishioner and that you want us to visit. That will at least put you on the list that we get if we come by and make rounds. But if things are really serious, we ask that you have someone from your family call the office and tell us. Fr. Ted and I take this part of our ministry very seriously, and we want to offer you the help of the Church and the Sacraments in your time of need. But we can’t do that if we don’t know you need them. Please spread the word on that. End of editorial!

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is not the only way that the Church ministers to the sick. Priests are not the only ones responsible for caring for the sick. The entire community bears responsibility in reaching out to the sick, and their loved ones, in time of need. We all must visit the sick and pray for them, easing their burdens in whatever way we can. Every pot of soup brought to a sick member of our community, every ride to the doctor’s office that we offer them, every card sent to the sick is a special act of charity. To reach out to the sick and encourage them with our prayers is one of the corporal works of mercy.

When we reach out to the sick as a community, we are saying, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

It comes down to this: We stand near the end of another Church year. This is a good time to ask ourselves what this year has been like for us. Have we heard the Scriptures all year long as just some nice stories, or have we really been changed by them? Is our relationship with Jesus merely academic, or simply relegated to Sunday, or have we really grown in our friendship with the Lord?

If this Church year has made any difference to us at all, perhaps we will be more willing to seek out the help of the Church in our times of illness and suffering – because we know that Christ longs to reach out to us through the Church in order to carry on his ministry of healing. If we have come closer to Christ this Church year, we should be now be more willing and able to reach out to the sick through simple acts of kindness, and by encouraging them to receive the sacraments, offering to make the arrangements ourselves if need be.

This Church year we’ve seen Christ over and over again heal the sick and reach out to those in need. Those aren’t meant to be stories we just read or proclaim; they are meant to be an example of how to reach out to our brothers and sisters, encouraging them in the name of the Lord. Because Christ longs to continue his healing ministry in our own day and age, but he needs us to be the agents of that ministry. He needs the clergy to celebrate the sacraments of the sick for those in need. He needs committed lay people to visit the sick and encourage them, reminding them that the community cares for them and seeks their well-being. And he needs the sick to be well-disposed to receive his grace, especially in their time of need.

Unlike those who rebuked Bartimaeus for calling out to the Son of David, we must be a community that encourages one another in our suffering, and brings the sick among us to the Lord for comfort and healing. This community needs to be a place where the sick can hear those wonderful words of comfort:

“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Thursday of the 29th Week of Ordinary Time

I don’t remember exactly when, but sometime during my time in seminary, I realized following God’s call was not guaranteed to be easy, all full of sweetness and light. Yes, there is sweetness, there is light, and there is also sadness, pain and persecution. Jesus was always very clear about that. And I don’t think we could find a passage in which he was clearer about it than in today’s Gospel. Living the Gospel, Jesus tells us, could well put us in the middle of all kinds of unpleasantness, including family discord. You know yourselves that doing the right thing isn’t always a universally accepted value. People disagree – sometimes vehemently – about what God would have us do.

But the answer to the question is simple enough: live the Gospel. Even doing that, though, does not guarantee that life will be uncomplicated. Think of the many persecuted Christians, currently and throughout history; think of all those who have died for the faith. So many have to witness to the Gospel at great cost, even including their very lives. We too may have to witness to the Gospel at great cost, even including relationships that may be important to us. But Jesus never said it was going to be easy.

This is kind of the Gospel version of “Mama Said There’d be Days Like This.” Jesus makes it clear that there is cost to discipleship. But if we truly wish to set the earth on fire with the compassion of Jesus, we must be willing to suffer division and persecution. We have to be willing to pay the price, because the price of not being a disciple is so much more. May we never give away the Kingdom to save ourselves from discomfort.

Back in seminary, I realized that Jesus never said to me “hey, here’s something easy you could do for me…” So every day I am learning how much more important it is to pay whatever the price may be. May we all set the earth ablaze by living the Gospel with integrity.

Thy Will be Done

This morning’s Office of Readings contains a letter to Proba by St. Augustine. In it, St. Augustine explores the Lord’s Prayer:

We need to use words so that we may remind ourselves to consider carefully what we are asking, not so that we may think we can instruct the Lord or prevail on him.

 

Thus, when we say: Hallowed be your name, we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name, which in fact is always holy, should also be considered holy among men. I mean that it should not be held in contempt. But this is a help for men, not for God.

 

And as for our saying: Your kingdom come, it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.

 

When we say: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking him to make us obedient so that his will may be done in us as it is done in heaven by his angels.

 

When we say: Give us this day our daily bread, in saying this day we mean “in this world”. Here we ask for a sufficiency by specifying the most important part of it; that is, we use the word “bread” to stand for everything. Or else we are asking for the sacrament of the faithful, which is necessary in this world, not to gain temporal happiness but to gain the happiness that is everlasting.

 

When we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are reminding ourselves of what we must ask and what we must do in order to be worthy in turn to receive.

 

When we say: Lead us not into temptation, we are reminding ourselves to ask that his help may not depart from us; otherwise we could be seduced and consent to some temptation, or despair and yield to it.

 

When we say: Deliver us from evil, we are reminding ourselves to reflect on the fact that we do not yet enjoy the state of blessedness in which we shall suffer no evil. This is the final petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and it has a wide application. In this petition the Christian can utter his cries of sorrow, in it he can shed his tears, and through it he can begin, continue and conclude his prayer, whatever the distress in which he finds himself. Yes, it was very appropriate that all these truths should be entrusted to us to remember in these very words.

 

Whatever be the other words we may prefer to say (words which the one praying chooses so that his disposition may become clearer to himself or which he simply adopts so that his disposition may be intensified), we say nothing that is not contained in the Lord’s Prayer, provided of course we are praying in a correct and proper way. But if anyone says something which is incompatible with this prayer of the Gospel, he is praying in the flesh, even if he is not praying sinfully. And yet I do not know how this could be termed anything but sinful, since those who are born again through the Spirit ought to pray only in the Spirit.

Just like any prayer we repeat often enough, the Lord’s Prayer can become essentially rote. What we need to do is to step back and realize that what we are praying for will happen anyway, the whole point of the prayer is to put ourselves in accord with God’s will.

Monday of the 29th Week of Ordinary Time: Being rich in what matters to God

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed these days. I always find that in these waning days of the year, when the mornings are cooler (dare I say “colder?”), and there is less sunshine in the morning, I just want to pull up the covers and go back to bed when the alarm rings. That’s kind of how the year ebbs and flows. So in these days toward the end of the year, our thoughts naturally think of life and death, and the life to come. We approach All Soul’s Day, and Thanksgiving – which is the end of the harvest, – and Christmastime and New Year’s Eve, which makes us think about the end of the year.

We’ll notice, too, that the readings toward the end of the year start to make us look toward the end. The rich man in today’s Gospel parable would have done well to think of the end of things and to get his affairs in order. But he foolishly thought he would live forever, and prepared to enjoy his riches for years to com. Only those years were cut short and his life was required of him that very evening.

The moral of the story, so to speak, is the message we need to hear. We never know how many days will be given us, and so we must always be ready to meet our Lord and Savior. And what we have to be storing up is the riches that will endure in heaven. We must attend to our spiritual life, taking time for prayer and worship. We must attend to the needs of others, serving them as if they were Christ himself. We must live our days in joyful praise of the One who created us. We must be truly rich in what matters to God.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Much will be expected!

Today’s readings

Of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

These words, spoken by Jesus in another place in the Gospels, are very related to the words we hear him speak to us today:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

The message of the whole of the Gospel is that simple, and the message of the whole of the Gospel is that difficult. We are all called to enter the kingdom of God, but much as James and John, and later all the rest of the Twelve, missed, that kingdom is not one of personal glory but rather of the glory of God, which is accomplished through service and through pouring out our lives for the good of others. There is no other way to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus was very clear about that to his disciples, and that includes all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. This Sunday’s readings, then, provide a kind of examination of conscience for all of us who would be disciples of Jesus. Each of us has to do that according to his or her own station in life.

A little more than a year ago, I sat down in my room at the seminary and picked up a piece of the school’s stationery and a pen and began to write a letter that I knew would change my life forever. “Dear Bishop Imesch,” I began, “I ask that you would ordain me to the Order of Deacon for service in the diocese of Joliet.” Canon Law requires that this letter be written to the Bishop in the days before Ordination, asking for permission to be ordained, and pledging a life of service and obedience to the bishop and the diocese. Apparently my request was granted, because on November 4th, of 2005, Bishop Kaffer ordained me to the transitional diaconate.

And it has changed my life forever. When I preach the words I just quoted, it is with a sense of fear and trepidation. Because the Greek word diakonia, from which we derive our word “deacon,” means service. Even though I was ordained a priest in June, I don’t stop being a deacon. That level of ordination underlies my service as a priest, and I am bound by my promises to live the life I promised to live last November. And quite honestly, my salvation depends on doing just that.

In the homily of that Ordination Mass, Bishop Kaffer proclaimed the following words, which are part of the Ordination Rite:

This man, our brother, is now to be raised to the order of deacon …By consecration deacons preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people and assist in the Liturgy…From the way he goes about these duties, may you recognize him as a disciple of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served…

Then he addressed some specific words to me, including these:

As a deacon you will serve Jesus Christ, who was known among his disciples as the one who served others. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and humankind in love and joy…

 

Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Then the people of Christ, brought to life by the Spirit, will be an offering God accepts. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

You can hear, in all these words, how much today’s readings remind me of the commitment I made almost a year ago. Once again, of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected. I have been given the wonderful grace of Ordination to the diaconate, and to the priesthood. I have the opportunity to minister in a community that has welcomed me and accepted me as part of the parish. I have a good place to live, and am taken care of in many ways. I have been given much.

So the question is, of course, how have I lived up to what is expected of me? Have I given of myself unselfishly? Do I sacrifice my own needs and desires for the good of those I serve? Do I remain joyful in service even when the task is hard or the hours long? Am I so addicted to good feelings that I shy away from preaching what needs to be said? Have I reached out to the poor? Have I been dedicated to standing with the sick and the suffering, and those who grieve the loss of loved ones? Is prayer for all of those I serve constantly on my lips? Has love and service been the way in which I approach every situation, meeting, or occasion?

I have to confess that in this year of ordained service, I have not always done what has been expected of me. Sometimes I have failed in these ways and have made my ministry more about me than about Christ. I pray that the year ahead will be a better one, and that I will continue to grow in ministry and most of all in service to Christ and to every person.

What about all of you? Have you received much? We live in one of the most affluent areas of the world. Not negating the fact that we all have difficulties in life, still what we have could be envied by most of the world’s population. We have all received much, and from us, much is expected. As members of the Body of Christ, we have received God’s grace through Baptism and the other Sacraments, and we are called to share that grace with others, according to the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve. Listen to these words of instruction from the Rite of Confirmation:

The promised strength of the Holy Spirit, which you are to receive, will make you more like Christ and help you to be witnesses to his suffering, death, and resurrection. It will strengthen you to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love.

The call is there for all of us, and we are to follow it. We have received much, and much will be expected of all of us. So, reflecting on these readings, let us ask ourselves: Have we striven to make Christ present in every place where we are by our thoughts, words and actions? Have we been ministers of the Lord to those who are in need, to the sick and the aged, to those who have no one to care for them? Have we made the present the love of Christ in our workplaces, classrooms, communities and homes? Have we made worship a priority, and have we always gone forth in peace to love and serve the Lord?

Maybe, like me, you would have to confess that all of your life has not been lived that way. Maybe you have had some particularly un-Christ-like moments this past year. Maybe you have been more about being served than about serving others. Maybe you have made it all about you. Join me in repenting of that, and in seeking forgiveness from those you have not served as you should. Join me in praying that the year ahead will find us giving our lives as a ransom for many.

As we approach the Eucharistic table with our gifts today, let us also bring forward our better moments of diakonia, and leave behind the moments where that has not been a priority for us. As we reach out to receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord who gave his very life for us, let us also receive his strength and Spirit that we may go forth to be the Body of Christ to everyone in our lives and in our communities. Let us repent of our selfishness and greed and reach out to others in generosity and charity. Let us be the servants of all and the slaves of all, so that we might paint our world with the compassion of our Lord. Let us stop trying to get into the kingdom of God like James and John and the others in today’s Gospel, and remember that the kingdom of God is not about us. As Christ gave his very life for us, so let us too give our lives in service to others, that we might be a ransom for many who would otherwise not know the Lord. Let us all raise the bar of our stewardship of time, talent and treasure to the level that Jesus did in giving his life for us. May we all stop making our ministries about us rather than about Christ and those we serve. May we all be renewed in the commitment we made at Baptism, and the commitments we have made to service. Let us proclaim Christ in every thought and deed.

Because … of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.

Saturday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The greatest prayer of the homilist is that the Spirit will give him the words that God wants his people to hear. That is the prayer that hopefully all of us pray before we sit down to write or plan our words. Then, we do our homework, praying over and studying the words of Scripture. Then comes the scary part: this prayer makes a certain leap of faith necessary. At some point, we have to trust that the words we have are actually the answer to that prayer and then deliver them with confidence.

The same is true on a day-in, day-out level for all Christians. We should all be praying that the Spirit will help us to answer the questions that we sometimes get about our faith. Why does the Church teach some particular thing? Why do you Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints? You could probably fill out the list of questions that you have received all through your life. And each of us is actually on for answering these questions. When you get these questions, you are the homilist! You must pray that the words you use to answer the questions will be helpful to the person asking. You must do your homework, growing in your faith through adult enrichment of some kind. And then you must trust that the words you speak will actually be the words that person needs to hear.

This is the reality that Jesus is teaching his disciples in today’s Gospel. The Spirit is trustworthy. We can trust that we will have the words to answer those who question us, whether they be accusers or people genuinely interested in our faith. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say. It couldn’t be clearer.

Today we are celebrating a Mass of Mary, Help of Christians. This Mass commemorates the freeing of Pope Pius VII on May 24, 1814. Having been driven from Rome by force of arms, the Church prayed through the intercession of Mary for his deliverance, and that deliverance came to pass. Mary continues to intercede for the Church in all kinds of persecution. We can rely on her help to answer those questions of the faith and know that through her intercession, the Holy Spirit will never leave the Church without the words we should say.