Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Fall is one of those times when we really notice creation. Leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler, the hours of sunlight are rapidly diminishing. It makes us grateful for the bits of life that we still see, because we know that the winter is coming and we will be groaning in eager anticipation of spring.

So maybe we can resonate with what St. Paul is saying in today’s first reading. His basic message is that nothing is perfect yet; we are not where we should be – perfection is still in the future for all of us. We see that our own lack of perfection has repercussions that touch all of creation. There will come a time when God fully reveals everything and we will see ourselves and the entire world through God’s eyes. That is the reward of the Kingdom that we all eagerly hope for. But we are not there yet. We, along with all of creation, groan in anticipation of what will be revealed in those days.

In Masses for the dead, the Third Eucharistic Prayer says, “On that day, we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.” That’s the promise. It will be like the mustard seed, come to full growth, that becomes a large enough bush to provide shelter for the birds of the sky. It will be like yeast mixed through three measures of flour until it leavens the whole batch of dough.

Put very simply, the best is yet to come for all of us, and for all of creation. In these waning days of the Church year, we continue to long – no, groan – for the day when everything will come to fruition and the Kingdom of God will be revealed in all its glory. We have this as our hope – we don’t see it yet – but as St. Paul says, who hopes for what one sees? We have hope that one day we will enter into the glory of the Kingdom because we will have become holy by being caught up in the One who is holiness itself.

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The thing is, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

Because tax collectors were despicable human beings. They worked for the Romans, were in league with the foreign occupation. They were not paid by the Romans for their work. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and bordered on extortion. Often, the border was crossed. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what is the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Grammar lesson here: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

The trouble here is that the Pharisee doesn’t need God; he can do the whole righteousness thing all by himself, thank you very much. This is known in theology as the heresy of Pelagianism: a belief that we are responsible for our own salvation, and that salvation is achievable through our own efforts. The tax collector knows this is false, and is quite convinced that he needs God and needs God’s mercy. He is also quite convinced that God can be trusted to come to his aid. The bottom line on this parable is that we are all sinners, we are all incapable of any kind of real righteousness on our own efforts, and we all need a Savior.

Someone once told me that it must be so hard for me to listen to all those confessions; that it must be discouraging to hear about all that sin. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because the truth is, I am quite aware of my own sinfulness, and am encouraged by those who come to the Sacrament to receive God’s mercy. I don’t worry so much about those who confess their sins, because I trust in the grace of the Sacrament of Penance and I trust in the God who is mercy itself. I worry more about those who have not confessed or will not confess, or are too embarrassed to confess. I worry about those who think they can fix their problems all by themselves. I worry about those who don’t think they need a Savior.

This week I noticed how beautiful some of the trees are becoming. I felt the nip in the air and have noticed the shortness of the daylight. It all reminded me that our year is coming to a close. And our Church year is coming to a close even sooner than that: in just four weeks we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the last day of our Church year, and the following week we will begin a new Church year with the season of Advent. Where has the time gone? These are the days that have me thinking about my life this past year. Maybe you are too. How have we grown this year, especially in our faith? Have we made progress in Christian life, attacked sin and vice, and grown in virtue? These are the questions we need to put up at the front of our prayer in these weeks.

The Liturgy today is framing all that around one question: have you been more aware this year of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christian men and women and flourish in the world. That goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who suddenly became aware of and ashamed of their nakedness in the Garden of Eden, and to St. Paul who prayed over and over to get rid of his “thorn in the flesh.” So when we are exhausted by sin, we should not be surprised. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news indeed. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector can not even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this temple, this church, to pray today. What is our prayer like? What is it that we have been trying to work on this year? What sins have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

Our Psalmist is clear today: The Lord hears the cry of the poor. He’s not talking about simple poverty of riches. He’s talking more about the more complex poverty of spirit that we must all work toward. “God is close to the brokenhearted,” he says, and “those who are crushed in spirit, he saves. The Lord redeems the lives of his servants; no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.” We don’t have to work hard to achieve our own righteousness. But we may have to work hard to achieve our own poverty of spirit.

God is God, and we are not. Pray it after me: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

All Creatures of Our God and King

“All Creatures of Our God and King is one of my very favorite Catholic hymns. The tune is Lasst Uns Erfreuen, and it is also the tune for “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” (which is timely, with All Saints Day coming up this week!” The wonderful fall colors got me thinking along these lines today! This is one of many versions of the hymn seen on YouTube.

The text for “All Creatures” is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, which of course adds to its belovedness! The text for “Ye Watchers” is from John A.L. Riley.

 

All Creatures of Our God and King

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
Refrain

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
Refrain

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
Refrain

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.
Refrain

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
Refrain

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.
Refrain

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
Refrain

Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs:
Refrain

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia!

O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th’eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord.
Refrain

Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song.
Refrain

O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One.
Refrain

Autumn in Naperville

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Autumn is here in Naperville and I love it. I didn’t think we would get many nice colors this year with the weather we’ve had, but there are some nice oranges and reds in some of the trees around here. These are right at the corner outside the Church and provide a nice backdrop, depending on where you’re sitting in Church!

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christian men and women and flourish in the world. That goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who suddenly became aware of and ashamed of their nakedness in the Garden of Eden, and to St. Paul who prayed over and over to get rid of his “thorn in the flesh.” So when we are exhausted by sin, we should not be surprised. That’s just the way sin works.

But we don’t have to be content with that either. The good news that St. Paul brings us in the first reading today from his letter to the Romans is that sin doesn’t get the last word. Those who did not know Christ had to live according to the law, with all of its precepts and principles and technicalities. But the law doesn’t sanctify a person, it only makes them more aware of their guilt and unworthiness. That’s why God sent his only Son into our world. It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we can ever be cleansed, only through his sacrifice on the Cross that we can ever be reunited with our God.

As the Psalmist says today, we are the people who long to see God’s face. Because nothing else will heal us. Even if our sin makes us want to turn away and hide, we cannot hide from our God – indeed we dare not hide from our God if we ever want to be unburdened of the exhausting weight of our sinfulness. At this Eucharist, we celebrate our Lord who cares enough about us to bring us back unstained to the banquet of the Kingdom. We open ourselves to his mercy, revealing our brokenness, our sinfulness, our shame and our unworthiness. He opens himself to us in love, binding up that brokenness, erasing the sinfulness, healing our shame and lifting up whatever in us is unworthy. Jesus Christ is our salvation and our redemption. Our sins do not have to weigh us down, and we who receive him in the Eucharist today do not ever have to settle for being exhausted by our sins.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Psalm 1 is one of my very favorite psalms. Listen to it again:

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

One interpretation of this Psalm is to look at it as a blueprint for blessedness. In Biblical terms, of course, blessedness equals happiness. So the person who doesn’t follow the counsel of the wicked or walk with sinners but instead meditates on the law of the LORD is happy, or blessed. This person is productive and vibrant, and all of his activities are prosperous. This person is contrasted to the wicked person who is anything but enduring. These are unhappy people who are driven away by the first storm who comes along.

On the other hand, the Church has also looked at the blessed one in this psalm as referring to Christ himself. None of us is able to steer clear of evil all the time, nor meditate on God’s law day and night. But Jesus is the One who is like us in all things but sin and who is the fulfilled promise of God’s law. Jesus definitely is like the tree planted near running water, which takes root strongly and shades us from the burning heat of evil under his never-fading leaves. Jesus is the one who can prosper any work that we do, if we just ask him to do so. If we want to know the person who really embodies the spirit of Psalm 1, then all we have to do is look to our Savior.

But that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to become holy enough to take up the spirit of this Psalm within ourselves. We certainly don’t want to be the chaff which is driven away by the wind. Joining ourselves to our Savior, meditating on him day and night, or at least whenever we can, we can be refreshed by those running waters and become the sturdy trees that shelter the Church in good times and in bad. Blessed indeed are all of us who hope in the Lord.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are two things: the promise, and the response.

The promise has echoed down through the ages. God called Abraham and promised descendents as numerous as the sands on the sea shore or the stars in the sky. Through Moses, God made known his intent to bring his people out of slavery and into the promised land. Through Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who speaks in today’s Psalm, God announces that he will make good on his promise to send a Messiah to his people. And through Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all the promises, we have the promise of salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. From Abraham to us today, the promises has echoed, and still echoes, in the Church and in the world, down through the ages. There is the promise.

The response has always taken many different forms. One would think the response would be complete adoration, obedience, and devotion to our God who keeps his promise. But sometimes the response has been arrogance, thinking that anything good that happens is the result of our own feeble efforts, like the foolish rich man in today’s Gospel. Sometimes the response has been entitlement, as if we were actually worthy of grace, and due the gifts that come our way. Sometimes the response has been apathy or disinterest, not even taking the time to notice the graces and blessings that come to us. Sometimes the response has been outright rejection – refusing the gift and ignoring the Giver. Sometimes we have been very unworthy and unappreciative of the promise.

But there is still the promise. And there is always time for a different, better, more appropriate response.