Catholic Social Teaching Homilies Ordinary Time Solidarity The Church Year

Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Back when I was in my early twenties, I was taking voice lessons. I had a really good teacher who taught me all the mechanics of voice as well as some music theory. He also tried to teach me how to play piano, but that never took. But I have to admit, sometimes I took things for granted and let my practicing slide. I had been doing that for a couple of weeks, and the lesson right after that went okay, but I have to admit I didn’t really learn anything because I hadn’t put anything into it. At the end of the lesson, we sat down and talked for a while. Mostly my teacher was talking and I was getting an earful. But I thought he was praising me for my abilities and progress – the words he used were very positive and I left feeling really good about myself. But afterward, while I was driving home, I started to feel the kick in the pants that the talk really was. I got the message, loud and clear.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word is a little like that. The Lazarus story is almost delightful, seeing the underdog win out in the end, and all good restored. If it were a movie, it would be one of those feel-good movies you’d see on Hallmark Channel. But that’s not what these words are, sisters and brothers. No, these words are the same kind of kick in the pants that I got from my music teacher.

The theme for that kick in the pants is well-expressed by the prophet Amos in the first reading. Amos was never known for his subtlety and this reading is no exception. The part that really jumped out at me was another musical metaphor. Listen to this line again: “Improvising to the music of the harp, like David, they devise their own accompaniment.” That almost sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t at all. David could devise his own accompaniment, because he was singing those Psalms with the voice of God. But if everyone in our choir devised their own accompaniment, we’d have a cacophony. So here Amos is making the point that devising their own accompaniment meant that they listened to what they wanted to hear, not what God was telling them. It’s kind of like the expression, “she dances to her own music.” It’s not a compliment at all.

The rich man in today’s Gospel devised his own accompaniment too. He ignored poor Lazarus every single day of his life. He knew Lazarus’s need, and maybe he even thought he’d get around to helping Lazarus one day. Maybe he thought, “What good can I do, I’m just one person?” Or maybe he thought, “If I give him something to eat, what good will that do, he’ll just be hungry tomorrow.” He probably came up with all kinds of excuses about why he couldn’t help Lazarus right here and right now. He was devising his own accompaniment.

And we all know the story about the rich man. Someday becomes never. It’s eventually too late: poor Lazarus dies and goes to be with Father Abraham. But in an ironic twist of fate, the rich man also dies, presumably soon after. But it seems that Lazarus and the rich man end up in different places, doesn’t it? The rich man learns that devising one’s own accompaniment does not help one to sing a hymn of praise to the Lord, and his choice in life becomes his choice in the life to come. If one doesn’t choose to praise God in life, one won’t have that option in the life to come. Devising our own accompaniment comes with drastic consequences.

One of the principles of Catholic social teaching – which, by the way, is one of the reasons I love being catholic – is solidarity with the poor. Solidarity with the poor is the teaching that says we need to be one with our brothers and sisters, and not ignore their presence among us. I became very aware of this as I walked around downtown Chicago earlier this week. I had come with some money for the poor as I usually do. But on the train ride home, I realize that I had just quickly given some of them some money, and never really looked at them. They are my brothers and sisters, and I didn’t take the time to look them in the eye. Solidarity calls me – calls all of us – to do just that. We have to step out of that universe that we have set in motion around us and realize that Christ is present in each person God puts in our path. We have to step out of our own cacophony where we have devised our own accompaniments and step into the symphony that God has set in motion. We have to be one with all people.

God knows about this principle of solidarity. Because God holds it so dear, he sent his only Son to take on flesh – our flesh – so that he could live in solidarity with us. He shared in all of our joys and sorrows, and reaffirmed that human life was good. Life was made good at creation and remains good to this day. But if God could take on flesh in solidarity with us, then we must take on the burdens of our brothers and sisters and live in solidarity with them.

St. Paul tells us to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.” We have to be serious about living our faith and proclaiming the Gospel in everything that we do. In solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters, we must sing to God’s own accompaniment and join in the wonderful symphony that is the heavenly worship.

Homilies Saints

Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel

archangelsToday’s readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 12, Revelation 12:7-12, Matthew 1:18-25

Celebrated in our parish church as a Solemnity today. This is very similar to the homily I gave to the school children last year on the Solemnity, amended a bit in order to speak to the wider audience of a morning Mass.

We’re all very aware these days how scary and frustrating our world can be at times. Taking a journey in safety is something we may have once taken for granted, but not these days. I often think that with all the difficulty getting through an airport, you really have to want to get where you’re going. But there’s danger everywhere. All we have to do is turn on our television news to see it face-to-face. And often enough, we come closer to danger even than that. These days, it seems, we don’t hear very much good news, and the truth is not defended as it should be. When it comes down to it, lots of times, we need someone to help us. Sometimes we need to hear from an angel.

Today is the Feast of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. Since our church is named after St. Raphael, this is a very special day for us and we celebrate it this morning with great solemnity. But it’s a special day for everyone because the angels that we’ve heard about today are great helps to us every day.

Some angels are guides. Today we heard about our patron, St. Raphael, who was a guide for Tobiah in our first reading. St. Raphael appeared as a young man and accompanied Tobiah as he journeyed a long distance to get his father’s property and bring it back. Tobit, his father, was very worried about Tobiah making the journey, so he was looking for someone to help him. Raphael, posing as the young man, went with Tobiah and brought him home safely, along with his father’s property. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers.

Some angels bring healing. The name Raphael actually means, “God heals.” Tobit, Tobiah’s father, was blind for a long time. So, along with bringing back Tobit’s property, Raphael and Tobiah brought back an ointment made of fish gall. Tobiah blew into his father’s eyes and smeared the medicine on them, and Tobit was able to see his son again! Raphael also healed a woman named Sarah. She was married seven times, but each of her husbands died on their wedding night, and Sarah thought she would be alone for the rest of her life. Raphael arranged for Tobiah and Sarah to be married, and they both lived very happily. St. Raphael is also the patron saint of healing, especially of the blind.

Some angels are defenders. In the second reading, Satan was trying to take over heaven and accused all of God’s followers, good people, of all kinds of crimes. St. Michael fought against Satan and had him thrown out of heaven. He brought victory to God by being strong in the battle against Satan and all evil powers, and he still defends people against evil to this day by his prayers. Because he defends people, St. Michael is the patron saint of police officers.

Some angels are messengers. St. Gabriel was the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to be the Mother of Jesus. In our Gospel reading, St. Gabriel also comes to St. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, and reassured him. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father of Jesus, so he was going to quietly call off the wedding. But Gabriel came and assured him that the baby Mary was going to have was from God, and because of what Gabriel told him, St. Joseph stayed with Mary and became the earthly father of Jesus. Gabriel is known for the news that he brings, and is the patron saint of messengers, postal workers, communications workers and broadcasters.

All three of these angels, Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, came to make God’s presence known on earth in some way. Our patron, St. Raphael, came to be Tobiah’s guide and to bring God’s healing to Tobit and Sarah. St. Michael came to defend God’s people against evil and danger. St. Gabriel came to bring good news about the Incarnation and the Salvation we would have in Christ.

But you know, their ministry continues to this day. There are indeed angels among us. Maybe St. Raphael is still here, keeping us safe when we go on long journeys and, more importantly, helping us to stay on the path to God. He might be here, too, working through the hands of doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and all kinds of healers, to bring sick people back to health. Maybe St. Michael is still here, working through police officers and fire fighters and all kinds of public safety people, in order to keep our communities safe, and maybe St. Michael also works through those who defend the Church against all kinds of evil. Maybe St. Gabriel is still here among us, raising up prophets in our midst; maybe he’s working through parents and teachers and priests and ministers when they bring us news about God and preach the Gospel.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of today’s Liturgy of the Word. But I don’t think those stories are finished just yet. I think the angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news. The angels are probably working through people you know. They’re even working through you whenever you help someone else. The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it wasn’t for the angels among us. Today we should thank God for Saints Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

Homilies Saints

Vigil of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel

straphaelToday’s readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 12, Revelation 12:7-12, Matthew 1:18-25
Today’s feast: Vigil of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel [Vigil Mass Celebrated for the School Children]

What is a hero? The dictionary tells us that heroes are people of great courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. They are people who seem to be able to do more than we can possibly imagine, people who are bigger or stronger or smarter than everyone else. I remember when I was your age I admired Superman and Batman, and sports heroes like Dick Butkis and Mark Spitz who was a great Olympic swimmer. You probably have heroes too. Maybe your heroes are people like Brian Urlacher or fictional people like Lightening McQueen or Spiderman.

You may never get to meet any of these heroes, and many of them are imaginary, just people we see in the movies or on television. But I think the world gives us all kinds of heroes, people who may never be real famous but people who do ordinary things with great ability and who have values and a sense of right and wrong that is a great example to all of us. Today’s feast of the Archangels Raphael, Michael and Gabriel gives us a great look at heroic qualities that we see in the Angels, but might also see in other people.

Some heroes lighten the load for other people. Like St. Raphael, they are people who can walk with us on long journeys, real journeys or even on the journey we call life. They teach us things and help us to see new possibilities. They are the people we can go to when we have a problem. The person who will get up and help us in the middle of the night when we have a bad dream or aren’t feeling very well. The friend we can tell anything to: all of our fears and worries and dreams. The teacher who helps us find out that we have abilities and talents we never knew we had. The sister or brother who holds our hand when we’re scared. There are lots of angels like St. Raphael who journey with us and bring us safely home.

Some heroes keep us safe. Like St. Michael, they defend people who cannot defend themselves. The police officer who teaches you how to say no to drugs or who helps you cross the street or catches a thief. Firefighters or paramedics who rescue people who are in an accident or whose houses are on fire. Soldiers who fight for our freedom so that we won’t have to face terror near our homes. It might be the lawyer who defends someone who has been unjustly accused of a crime. It could be the person who reaches out to feed the poor or someone who fixes up homes for the homeless. There are lots of angels like St. Michael who keep us safe from anyone or anything that can harm us.

Some heroes speak the truth. Like St. Gabriel, they are people who proclaim the Gospel and are the voice of God for us. They are people who tell us things that we need to hear, even if we don’t necessarily want to hear them. They are prophets and preachers and ordinary folks who just give witness to their faith. The priest giving the homily. The teacher talking about our religion. The parent who teaches us right from wrong. The person who speaks out when our government or society is heading the wrong way. The one who urges us to serve the poor. Like St. Gabriel, there are lots of angels who speak the truth and are God’s voice in our world.

In our society today, it’s almost like we don’t need heroes at all. Science can explain so much of what might be mysterious in our world. But we still need heroes, and we need saints like Raphael, Michael and Gabriel to bring God’s protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. And we might never get to meet Brian Urlacher, Lightening McQueen or Spiderman, but chances are we know people who have been like angels to us. Chances are we have experienced the protection of the angels in all sorts of ways.

Homilies Ordinary Time The Church Year

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reminds me of a sound bite for the evening news. Taken out of context, Jesus is denying his family. And not only that, but Jesus now has “brothers,” so what happened to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary? Sound bites cause nothing but trouble because you don’t have the context to know what’s really being said. These sound bites take a whole lot of explanation, and the ones we have in today’s Gospel are certainly no exception.

First of all, let’s tackle the idea of Jesus having brothers. Many ideas surround that issue and have developed over time, as I am sure you can appreciate. One idea says that St. Joseph was an older man, and had sons by a previous wife, now dead. These would be Jesus’ half-brothers. Another idea comes from the fact that the Greek word translated “brothers” here is general enough that it might also refer to cousins or some other close kindred. So the brothers here would be close family members, not necessarily brothers. In either case, the Church affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary and this Gospel is making a different point.

The second sound bite is that Jesus seems to turn away from his mother and his relatives and claims that his family is those who hear the word of God and act on it. Well, Jesus certainly wasn’t turning away from his beloved mother or any of his close relatives. We know for a fact that Mary was the first of the disciples. Jesus seems to be more widening his family relationships than restricting them to just those related by blood. Which is good news for all of us who are now included in that family. Giving ourselves to the word of God, hearing it and living it, we are mother and brother and sister to Christ.

Homilies Saints

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

stmatthewHow wonderful for us to celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. Because Matthew was qualified to be a disciple of Jesus in much the same way that we are qualified to be disciples of Jesus-which is to say, not at all. Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman occupation government. His task was to collect the tax from each citizen. Whatever he collected over and above the tax was his to keep. Now the Romans wouldn’t condone outright extortion, but let’s just say that they weren’t overly scrupulous about what their tax collectors were collecting, as long as they got paid the proper tax.

So Matthew’s reception among the Jews was quite like they might accept the plague. The Pharisees were quick to lump men like Matthew with sinners, and despised them as completely unworthy of God’s salvation. But Jesus had different ideas.

“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Which brings us back to us. How wonderful for us to celebrate the call of a man who was anything but worthy. Because he was called, we know that our own calls are authentic, unworthy as we may be. Just as the Matthew spread the Good News by the writing and preaching of the Gospel, so we are called to spread the Good News to everyone we know. Matthew’s call is a day of celebration for all of us sinners, who are nonetheless called to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Homilies Saints

Ss. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang & Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings

koreanmartyrsKorea was introduced to Christianity in the late 1500s when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea at that time. It was not until the late 1700s that a priest managed to sneak into Korea, and when he did, he found about 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were over ten thousand Catholics.

In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.

St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.

Men and women like these Korean martyrs have always had a clear picture of what St. Paul was telling Timothy: “attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.” It is hard for us to imagine the incredible hardship and danger they faced by living their faith, but they lived it anyway, at the cost of their own lives. We may never be called upon to give our lives for the faith, but we may indeed have to pour out our lives for it every day by giving when we don’t feel like it, or being the presence of Christ to those we would rather not be around, or by making an unpopular stand contrary to the thoughts of those close to us. Martyrdom looks different in different times and places. May we be as willing to give of ourselves as the Korean martyrs were in that day.

Scriptural Reflections Scripture Scripture Resources

Wisdom Has Built Her House

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6, 11, 10; Romans 11:33-36; Mark 6:1-6

A lecture presented to the CREEDS Scripture Study group, kicking off their study of Wisdom Literature and the Chronicler.

I. What is Wisdom Literature?

You’ll be treated this year in CREEDS to an introduction to Hebrew Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Wisdom literature is a general literary genre quite popular in the Ancient Near East. This type of literature is characterized by sayings that praise God and teach heroic virtue.

A. Wisdom in the Ancient Near East

Wisdom literature a controversial tradition that needs some explanation, but it is a tradition that I think you will find edifying, challenging and uplifting. Much of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is omitted from the Bibles used in the Protestant churches, and even in some Jewish Scriptures. The main reason for that, at least among Hebrew scholars, was that the books were not found in Hebrew but only in Greek, and so they dated these books in the Hellenistic period which was thought to be too recent to be divinely inspired Scripture. Since then, however, many of the books have been found, at least partially, in Hebrew.

Before we launch into a whole preview of the Old Testament Wisdom tradition, I wanted to take a look at the whole idea of wisdom literature in the generic sense, or at least at wisdom literature in the ancient near east culture. Because what we know is that wisdom literature didn’t begin or end in ancient Israel, but rather part of the whole wisdom movement of that time and place. Lawrence Boadt tells us that there are known collections of proverbs from Sumeria and Babylon that date before 2000 B.C. and look quite a bit like counterparts found in the book of Proverbs. One example is the Sumerian proverb that says “A chattering scribe-his guilt is great” which corresponds to Proverbs 18:13 which reads “He who answers before listening-that is folly and shame.”

Now the wisdom tradition in Babylon appears to have been well established long before Israel ever existed as a nation, so it seems reasonable to expect that Israel borrowed much of its wisdom tradition from Babylon. Another great source of wisdom literature is found in Egypt, although it is not clear whether Israel borrowed from Egypt, or if both Israel and Egypt were using an ancient source that they both knew. In any case, wisdom literature was well-established in the ancient near east, and Israel’s wisdom tradition was a part of it.

While the content of Israel’s wisdom tradition appears to draw on the same questions and topics as other traditions, we should note, as Boadt does, that the answers are not the same. Even if the concerns of wisdom were universal, Israel’s answers to those concerns were uniquely their own. The uniqueness came of course from Israel’s finding the roots of all wisdom in the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 9:10). For Israel the source and summit of wisdom was to be found in right relationship (h?esed) with YHWH.

B. Wisdom in Ancient Israel

In Israel, the sources for wisdom have come from two places. The first is family. The proverbs especially tend to dwell on the right relationships between various members of the family. The right relationship of parents and children mirrors the right relationship between the people Israel and YHWH. Proverbs additionally prescribe relationships that make possible education of the young and moral instruction. These pearls of wisdom were passed on from generation to generation. Proverbs 4:3 tells us, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender and my mother’s only child, he taught me and said, ‘Take my words to heart!'”

The second source of wisdom literature would be formal education. There was great value in a professional class of wise men and women for the royal court. These people could be counted on for wise advice that enabled the king to rule effectively. So while there was undoubtedly an informal wisdom education that took place within the family, a formal school for the study of wisdom was required. The Babylonian and Sumerian societies had such schools available, and these taught young boys to be scribes and prepared them for careers in the royal court. Scriptures indicate that Israel also had professional scribes, and a professional class of wise counselors that served as advisors to the king.

But the king himself was seen as the great source of wisdom. David was considered wise, and his wisdom contributed greatly to the Scriptures in the form of the many Psalms attributed to him. But perhaps the greatest wisdom figure in the ruling class was wise King Solomon, and we’ll hear more about him in a moment.

First, it’s important I think to take a look at the way the wisdom literature was transmitted. Wisdom literature in general used several distinctive forms, such as the proverb, the riddle and fables. But in Hebrew, it is mostly the proverb that is common. The proverb could distill the wisdom of the ages into a practical, memorable, pithy line or two that had a bit of sermon in it as well. The proverbs had to be memorable because it was by memory that most of them were handed down across the generations and perpetuated in the society.

Some of the proverbs, however, were in a more narrative form. Think of the book of Job, filled with the wisdom to be distilled from suffering. Here there is narration, dialogue and intrigue. Questions and answers are exchanged, and life’s lessons are learned. Proverbs had the ability to take the most difficult questions of life and make them seem somehow approachable by bringing them to the ordinariness of life.

II. Three Wisdom Figures

That is a bit of an introduction to the idea of wisdom literature and what it is, and how it came to be formed in the Hebrew community. You’ll read much more about that from Boadt and others and you study wisdom this year. So at this point, I would like to take a look at three wisdom figures which will bring us from ancient Israel to the present day. The first is wise King Solomon in all his glory. Secondly, I want to look at the wisdom of Jesus, which takes the wisdom of the Old Testament and grounds it in God’s plan for salvation. And lastly, I want to explore wisdom and the Christian Disciple which takes the abstract study of wisdom and brings it to our own faith response.

A. Wise King Solomon

Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba. He becomes king by choice not by right, because that right should go to David’s first-born, Adonijah. But David had promised Bathsheba that Solomon would succeed him as king, and he does so, despite the interference of a bit of intrigue from Adonijah. At David’s decree, Zadok the priest anoints Solomon king of Israel and David is able to rest in peace.

After Solomon secured the kingdom and began his rule, his wisdom became apparent to all around him. After sacrificing to the Lord at Gibeon, the Lord offered Solomon whatever he wanted, all he had to do was make the request. And despite the many things he could have requested, he made just this one: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9) Humility in the service of the LORD is what Proverbs means when it says that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and Solomon had that figured out. And the LORD is pleased to grant Solomon’s request: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.” (1 Kings 3:12)

Shortly after he is gifted with wisdom, he gets the chance to show it. You all know this story, I’m sure. Two harlots come to Solomon, arguing over the custody of a child. It seems they both lived in the same house, and both gave birth within a day of one another. But the first woman’s child died during the night, having been smothered by his mother lying on him. So she tries to pull the old switcheroo, taking the other woman’s live child and putting her dead child in its place. Nice. She protested to Solomon that she had done no such thing, and so it was a case of she-said, she-said. So, the king in his great wisdom, declares, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other.” (I Kings 3:25) The real mother, of course, gave in immediately. She would rather give the child up than have him cut in half. By this, Solomon knew for sure that she was the real mother and awarded custody of the child to her. You can read all about that at the end of chapter 3 of First Kings.

Solomon’s reputation for wisdom is what led many traditions to call him the author of several wisdom books of the Old Testament. A legend of the Talmud guessed that Solomon crafted the Song of Songs in his lusty youth, Proverbs in middle age, and Ecclesiastes as a skeptical old man. His authorship of these books is debatable, but his reputation as a wise ruler and king is not.

Solomon’s wisdom was so great, that he was able to build and complete the Temple, dedicating it with great joy. But, Solomon was human, and chapter 11 of First Kings describes his many sins, especially the sin of intermarrying with foreign women who began to turn his heart to strange gods. One would think wisdom would have protected him from that, but it didn’t. The greatest wise king in all of Israel was also tragically flawed, just as his father David was before him, and just as pretty much every king who followed him would be.

B. The Wisdom of Jesus

We could beat up Solomon, the kings of Israel, and pretty much everyone because of their being flawed, but that’s really the wrong direction to go, and not the direction that God required. Instead, God noted that our fallenness was evidence of our need for a Savior.

And so, in his great wisdom, God our Father noted that there was a vast chasm of sin and death separating us from him. To close up that chasm, he sent his only Son into our world. He was born among us, he lived our life and died our death. But his death was not the last word for him or for us, because God raised him up. As God raised him up, he canceled the power of sin and death to keep us from God, and gave us the possibility of new life that lasts forever. That’s the Gospel, brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s our heritage.

Wisdom is often personified as the nebulous figure that was with God at the beginning of creation. The presence of Wisdom in that time explains the Genesis account of creation being spoken in the first person plural. “Through him, all things were made,” is the part of the Creed that speaks this truth. Thus, this Wisdom is often equated with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Word. Wisdom personified is often portrayed as a female image, and sometimes even thought to be the female side of God’s human face.

St. Paul speaks of Jesus as the true wisdom of God. Listen to this reading from his first letter to the Corinthians:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:22-31)

Because it really would seem wiser to send a savior who could overcome death without being subject to it, right? But how would that close that gap between God and us? God’s wisdom, which is so far superior to anything we can muster, says that a Savior who walks our walk and talks our talk and suffers pain and sorrow and death is so much more likely to appeal to fallen human creatures who are subject to all those same things. It might appear to the world to be a foolish way to save us, but to God it is wiser than wisdom itself.

C. Wisdom and the Christian Disciple

Which brings us to me and you. What difference does our study of wisdom make to us disciples? For an exploration of wisdom and the Christian Disciple, I am going to turn to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In his treatise, “On Loving God,” he says, “Man must seek in his own higher nature for the highest gifts; and these are dignity, wisdom and virtue. By dignity I mean free-will, whereby he not only excels all other earthly creatures, but has dominion over them. Wisdom is the power whereby he recognizes this dignity, and perceives also that it is no accomplishment of his own. And virtue impels man to seek eagerly for Him who is man’s Source, and to lay fast hold on Him when He has been found.”

St. Bernard makes two points here. First, wisdom directs us to look for the dignity that we have over every other created thing. As beautiful and complex and glorious as all of creation is, humanity has a dignity which holds humanity above and beyond all of it. Our ability to breathe puts us higher than the loftiest mountain. Our ability to sense the world around us puts us above the noblest sycamore tree. Our ability to reason and to love puts us beyond the noblest beast of the jungle. Moreover, we have been given dominion over all of them, to encourage their growth and flourishing, and to direct their living in the world.

Bernard’s second point is crucial. Here wisdom, directs us to realize with great humility that none of this dignity is of our own making. We have been given the dignity that we have as a free gift of the One whose dignity surpasses all of us. As high as we are above all of creation, God is higher than us to an infinite degree. Wisdom tells us that it’s not about us, that the beauty that is us is a gift of and is intended for the glory of our Creator God who breathed that dignity into us as he breathed life into us. We are created in the image and likeness of our God.

But St. Bernard teaches that wisdom looks like something. He says, “Clearly, you pour forth wisdom or understanding from your lips in three ways: if on your lips there is the admission of your own sinfulness, thanksgiving and the voice of praise, and words that encourage.” So we pour forth the wisdom that is ours by creation when we acknowledge that we are a sinful, broken people in need of a Savior. We sing wisdom when we cry out in thanksgiving for our many blessings and praise God for his goodness. And we exude wisdom when we encourage the downtrodden, the broken, the lost, the poor and needy, and help them to find the God who has gifted them with great dignity and worth.

If wisdom is right relationship with God, then we disciples must model that right relationship in the things we do, the words we say, the songs we sing, the prayers we offer and the sacrifices we make.

III. Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament

At this point, I want to take a look at the five books of Scripture commonly thought of as wisdom literature. This is going to be a quick rundown and is not intended as an exhaustive lecture on each of these books, because that’s coming at a later time. Think of this as a preview.

Ecclesiastes may be the most skeptical book of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is the Greek name for the central character in the narrative, whose name in Hebrew is Qoheleth. The refrain of this book is the author’s cry of “vanity of vanities, all things are vanity-and a striving after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 et. al.) The author decries the futility of striving for greatness in this world, only to reach the point of our own finiteness and come to a literal dead end. In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Proverbs is the book we most often think about in this kind of wisdom literature. The structure of the proverb gives clear direction to life’s basic questions. Many of the proverbs were probably borrowed from other ancient civilizations including the Sumerians and Babylonians, but there are some that are clearly later additions, giving evidence that they came from Hebrew culture itself. Labels within the book itself attribute chapters 1-22 to Solomon, 22:17-24:34 to “sayings of the wise,” chapters 25-29 to Solomon again, chapter 30 to Agur, Son of Jakeh and chapter 31 to King Lemuel. We don’t know who Agur and Lemuel are, but that section of sayings of the wise appears to be an adaptation of Egyptian proverbs. The content of the book ranges from pragmatic secular advice to reflections on the role of God in Israel.

Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, mixes proverbs with lengthy essays on common wisdom themes. These themes include “use of speech, self-control, evil friends, the value of work, death, (and) sickness.” Contrary to the way Proverbs is arranged, Sirach tends to group sayings and essays thematically. The entire book is like a hymn in praise of wisdom. The alternate name of the book, Ecclesiasticus, is translated as “the church book.” Because of this, and because it was not from the time of Ezra or before, most Jews were not comfortable including Sirach in their canon of Scripture. But because it speaks to the ethical aspects of everyday life, Sirach is a book which makes wisdom accessible to all of us.

Wisdom is written as a narrative in the voice of Solomon. It is known only in Greek and may have been the last book of the Old Testament to be written. The audience is Israel in exile in Egypt, and the major focus of the author is to reassure the Jewish community that keeping their faith, despite their many hardships, is worthwhile. Here, the reader can learn wisdom from the study of salvation history, and can hope for immortality as a reward for suffering.

Job is familiar to most of us. Job is a treatise on the meaning of suffering. The book can be divided into five major sections, with the first and last section comprising a religious folktale. In the first section, God tests Job who proves faithful. In the last section, God restores Job to his former greatness and way of life as a reward for his just actions. In between, there are three sections that seem to be a later addition. There is a dialogue between Job and three friends about the meaning of divine justice, the appearance of a fourth friend who challenges Job and the other three, demanding that they bow to God’s greatness and sovereignty, and section four, in which God appears and condemns Job’s demands for justice as arrogant, with Job submitting to God twice. The additions of sections two through four are a move beyond a simple folk tale into a complex treatise of suffering, justice and divine sovereignty. Eventually out of the book’s doubt and questioning, emerges a steadfast trust in God.

In your study of the wisdom literature, you’ll find some wonderful little gifts. Those include:

1. The importance of order for understanding creation and our role within it.
2. The importance of cause and effect, that actions have consequences and good deeds reap rewards.
3. That God is revealed in creation: beauty and order in the world around us can lead us to a greater understanding and appreciation of God in our lives.
4. That in suffering, we can find some meaning. Whether suffering is the result of evil done, as correction or discipline, or as a test of faith, all of it is part the plan of our loving and merciful God.
5. That life is positive. The world and creation are orderly, and there is hope all around us.
6. That we are responsible as stewards and co-creators of the world and all its wonders.
7. The divine plan is known by wisdom to be a gift that is beyond the human capacity to control or understand. We must be faithful to revelation and look to God for true wisdom.
8. Finally, wisdom knows its limits. If God’s thoughts are far beyond our understanding, then we must submit to that and let God be God.

These wonderful little gifts are like treasures waiting to be opened as you delve into the wisdom of God in the Scriptures. Along the way, you will undoubtedly find little lines that you can post on the refrigerator or jot down in a journal. And undoubtedly, as you meditate on them, they will bring you closer to the One who is wisdom itself.

IV. Meeting the Chronicler

Now before you get to your study of Wisdom literature, you’re going to spend some time delving into the books of First and Second Chronicles. So, you know, God help you! You could find the Chronicles a bit dry, so with that in mind I wanted to give you a pastoral tool. Should you find yourself nodding off in the midst of the Chronicles, here are my top ten things you could say if you’re caught sleeping in your CREEDS group:

10. “They told me at the blood bank this might happen.”

9. “I think that coffee is decaf after all.”

8. “I wasn’t sleeping! I was meditating on Second Chronicles!”

7. “I was up all night thinking about the implications of Fr. Pat’s Sunday homily.

6. “Darn! Why did you interrupt me? I had almost figured out the meaning of life.”

5. “Boy, that cold medicine I took last night just won’t wear off!”

4. “Sorry. I just spent the last four hours reading the Sunday bulletin.”

3. “I wasn’t sleeping. I was trying to pick up my contact lens without my hands.”

2. “Praise God! I think I just figured out the mystery of the Holy Trinity.”

And the number one thing you should say if you get caught sleeping at CREEDS…

1. “We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!”

All kidding aside, you will find that the Chronicles closely mirror the books of Samuel and Kings. These were originally joined with Ezra and Nehemiah as one single historical work. The Greek name for the Chronicles is paraleipomena, or “things omitted,” ostensibly omitted from narratives found in the books of Samuel and Kings. The primary objective of the author, referred to as “the Chronicler,” was not simply to fix problems with those books, however. The Chronicler realized that the greatness of Israel as a political power, such as it was, was over, and the nation would now be a nation under God or nothing.

Given that new paradigm, it was important for the Chronicler to portray an accurate picture of the nation’s history so that it could learn from its past mistakes and survive. But that accurate history was to be told through a religious, rather than a political, lens. You’ll find the main themes in Chronicles to be a defense of the legitimate claims of the Davidic monarchy in the nation’s history, and a celebration of the greatness of Jerusalem and its temple worship as the center of the religious life of the Jewish community. The Chronicler then is less interested in the political importance of David and Jerusalem than he is in their religious importance. You will perhaps find that as a difference in comparing Samuel/Kings with Chronicles.

One example of this is that the Chronicler leaves out of his narrative of David’s life the painful and humiliating encounter with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to cover up the affair. While the book of First Kings found that an important detail to explain the transition of the monarchy from David to Solomon instead of Adonijah, the Chronicler would see that as a major character flaw for the king who was for him primarily a cultic figure.

The philosopher/theologian Walter Brueggemann said, “Historical persons are never ‘historical’ but always constructions and portraits, partly done for us and to us, and partly done by ourselves, as we are always busily constructing ourselves for the sake of appearance and for the sake of self-understanding.” History has a way of painting the truth into a whatever canvas a culture might need for survival at a given time and place. That may explain for us the difference between the Samuel/Kings history and that of the Chronicler.

So please find in your study of the Chronicles a David that is a great cultic figure who is capable of crafting and singing a book of Psalms, and a Jerusalem that is the place where God himself dwells. And may that study lead you to the song in your own heart, and the place within you where true worship happens.

V. Closing Prayer

As we close today, the best wisdom prayer that I could think of was that of Reinhold Niebuhr, commonly called the “Serenity Prayer.” You may or may not be familiar with the full version of the prayer, but it is really quite beautiful and a great way to sum up what we will be learning about wisdom in the weeks ahead. So let us pray.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Homilies Ordinary Time The Church Year

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The little instruction of St. Paul to Timothy about bishops, women and deacons seems quaint. And it’s sure a relief to me because he doesn’t mention priests! Actually, he doesn’t mention priests because they were of course a later development. You can even see how the office of bishop has changed over time, with his reference to being married only once and managing his household well. But the real point here is that St. Paul is outlining the characteristics of the Christian disciple, for which all of us are responsible.

We Christian disciples are the public face of Christianity. What we portray to the world is how others will come to see our way of life as a whole. We must be people without reproach, not conceited and well-regarded by outsiders. We must be not deceitful, not addicted to anything, and not in love with sordid gain. Really, what he is telling us is almost impossible, isn’t it? We all fall short of these standards in some way.

Which is why we can be revived by Jesus Christ like the widow’s son on the way to Nain. Only Jesus Christ can help us in our weakness and fill in our lack. We might be tempted to weep over our sinfulness and unworthiness, but Jesus tells us not to weep and raises us up. Only with Jesus’ help can we do as the psalmist says: walk with a blameless heart.

Homilies Ordinary Time Sacrament of Penance Sacraments The Church Year

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

The problem is, as we well know, that we are a sinful people. That sinfulness goes all the way back to just after the creation, but we see it well in today’s first reading. The people Israel, having been led safely out of Egypt and having their enemies destroyed in the Red Sea, have soon enough forgotten the God who loved them into the desert and who longed to purify them in that desert for refuge in the promised land. When they lost sight of Moses and couldn’t figure out God’s plan, they fashioned a calf out of molten jewelry and began to worship its image. They had truly become stiff-necked.

And would that it had ended in the desert, but it didn’t. We have inherited the stiff-neckedness that plagued the ancient Israelites. Whenever we lose sight of God, we are constantly prone to worship other gods. Think about 9/11, whose horrible sixth anniversary we observed this past week. In the days following that tragedy, you would have been hard pressed to find a seat in any church. Not so any more. Do we need God less now? What gods have we embraced in the days since then?

And if we were pressed to admit it, I have to think we could understand God’s reaction to the Israelites and would have to admit it applied to us as well. We, just as well as they, have often been guilty enough to deserve being consumed by God’s blazing wrath. But that’s not the picture of God we get today, is it?

No, we get a picture of God who relents in punishment, and who not only offers mercy and forgiveness, but actually also relentlessly pursues his fallen people so that they will accept it. God is the shepherd who will leave behind ninety-nine sheep-crazy as that may be-to pursue just one of us who has wandered astray. God is the woman who having lost just one of ten coins stays up all night, having lit a lamp, and sweeps the house carefully until the coin has been found. God is that prodigal father who sees the sinner returning at a distance and runs out to meet him or her. God doesn’t relent in his pursuit of us until all the wandering have been restored to the fold, all the lost are found, and all the rebellious have returned to the table.

And God is not the one who stands there upon our return, arms folded, with a stern look on his face and says, “finally – what took you so long?” No, instead God calls together the neighbors and friends and begs them to help him rejoice and celebrate the lost lamb who has been restored to the fold and the coin that has been found. God is the father who kills the fatted calf, throws a fine robe around us, puts a ring on our finger and sandals on our feet, embraces us, and leads us to rejoice in our return. God is not content to simply treat us as one of his hired workers: he will not be satisfied until we are seated at his banquet table. God’s pursuit of us isn’t some kind of micromanaging megalomania, but instead a real longing expressed in action so that we can all join in the rejoicing that God always intended for us.

So do not leave this holy place without hearing this message. Yes, you have sinned: we are all that stiff-necked people. Yes, you have embraced gods that were not genuine: we are all tempted daily. But yes, God is pursuing you relentlessly, waiting in eager expectation, and exercising incredible patience until that day you return to him, heart and soul. What is on your heart right now? Where have you turned from God and embraced the worship of something or someone that is not God? How long has it been? When will you repent, confessing your sin and receiving God’s gift of mercy? How long will you keep yourself from feasting at God’s banquet table?

It’s as simple as approaching the Sacrament of Penance. In that beautiful Sacramental encounter, God waits for you, eagerly longing for your return. If you hear nothing else today, know that God has searched for you, lighting the lamp and burning the midnight oil, leaving the ninety-nine behind to reach out to you, peering out the window to see you on the road to your return. Those few Sacramental moments can be the beginning of new life and rejoicing in the way God always intended it.

If you haven’t been to the Sacrament in years, just say that. The priest is there to help you, not to judge you. Ask for help if you need it to make a good confession. But never stay away simply because you feel like you’re not worthy, or it’s been too long, or you haven’t done anything that bad, or you don’t want the priest to think badly of you (we do forget what you’ve said when you leave, you know!). Whatever the reason, don’t let that get in the way of God’s pursuing mercy. You deserve so much better than that, and God won’t rest until you’ve received it.

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

Homilies Saints

St. John Chrysostom

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

St John Chrysostom large

St. John Chrysostom was known to be a prolific, well-spoken and challenging preacher. The name “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed.” He spoke eloquently of the Scriptures, of which he had an extensive understanding, and applied their words to the times of his day. He was known, actually, to often preach for two hours or more! So, in his honor, I thought it appropriate to preach … oh, never mind.

John was manipulated by the emperor to become bishop of Constantinople, the capital city, because the emperor thought he could manipulate John. But he couldn’t. John would not be a kept man. So he would preach against the opulence of the wealthy and the mistreatment of the poor. He deposed bishops who had bribed their way into office. He would only offer a modest meal to those who came to kiss up to the bishop, rather than an opulent table that they had been expecting. He would not accept the pomp and ceremony that afforded him a place above most ranking members of the court.

But not everyone liked John. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing from John that private property existed because of Adam’s fall from grace any more than married men liked to hear that they were bound to marital fidelity just as much as their wives. When it came to justice and charity, John acknowledged no double standards. I have to admit, I think I would have liked his preaching!

What we should get from St. John Chrysostom, though, is that discipleship has to be imbued with fidelity and integrity. We have to practice what we preach. Today’s Scriptures call us to be loving, forgiving and thankful. Those can’t be just nice words that we think other people should do. We have to be those disciples who give lavishly of our personal resources, who forgive from the heart, who avoid judging and love all people deeply. If our living had this kind of integrity, then we could be “golden-mouthed” too, not so much by our words as by our actions.