St. Jerome

Today’s readings

It seems like St. Jerome had much in common with the disciples of today’s Gospel reading.  Jerome, rather unfortunately, was known for his quick temper and sometimes mean-spirited pen.  If they had email in those days, he’d be the one to fire off a quick nastygram without even taking time to think about it.  We all have our issues to deal with, unfortunately.

But we need to be extremely thankful for St. Jerome as we open up the Scriptures today.  Without his tireless efforts, our understanding of Sacred Scripture would be quite limited, I think.  It was St. Jerome who spent so much time translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, creating what was know as the Vulgate translation.  This was the standard text of the Scriptures for a long time in the Church, and is still an important basis for today’s vernacular translations.  His commentaries on the Scriptures are important to us to this very day.

Jerome was a pre-eminent scholar.  He studied the Scriptures all the time and was an expert in Biblical languages including Hebrew, Greek, Chaldaic and of course Latin.  He also spent a good deal of time in the Holy Land, walking the path of Christ, staying in the places where he stayed, even living for a time in the cave believed to have been Jesus’ birthplace.  He wasn’t just a scholar studying the Scriptures from a theoretical viewpoint; he was instead devoted to the Scriptures, pouring through them with love.

For those of you who are part of our CREEDS Bible Study, today is a Patronal feast day for you.  St. Jerome’s love of Scripture has made it possible for all of us to come to know Christ in a more intimate way through our own study and devotion to the Word of God.  In honor of his feast, I will leave us all with the advice of one of my seminary professors.  Be certain to read some Scripture every day, even if it’s just a few verses before you turn off the lamp at night.  If you do that, on your last day on earth, you’ll close your eyes and be able to open them up in heaven and know exactly where you are.  Scripture gives us that intimate relationship with our God.  St. Jerome, pray for us, and lead us back to the Scriptures with the same love and devotion you had.

Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that something is in our best interest when we first hear of it.  I can remember often growing up not wanting to do something like go on a retreat or join the youth group, but my parents giving me that gentle nudge to do it anyway.  And then of course, when I went, I’d always have a really great experience, and then I had to admit to them that I liked it, which was harder still.

I always think of that when I hear this week’s Gospel reading.  I think it’s a pretty human experience to resist what’s good for us, especially when it means extending ourselves into a new experience, or when it means having to inconvenience ourselves or disrupt our usual schedule.  We don’t want to go out into the field and work today, or go help at the soup kitchen, or go teach religious education, or go on that retreat, or get involved in a ministry at the church, or join a small Christian community, or whatever it may be that’s in front of us.

I remember specifically an experience I had when I first started in seminary.  I became aware that some of the guys, as their field education experience, were serving as fire chaplains.  That scared the life out of me, and I said to myself that I’d never be able to do that.  Two and a half years later, one of my friends at seminary asked me to join him as a fire chaplain.  Figures, doesn’t it?  I told him I didn’t think I had the ability to do that, but he persuaded me to pray about it.  Well, when I prayed about it, of course the answer was yes, do it.  And so I did, and found it one of the most rewarding spiritual experiences of my time in seminary.

People involved in ministries here at the Church can probably tell you the same kinds of stories.  Times when they have been persuaded to do something they didn’t want to.  They could probably tell you how much they grew as people, how much they enjoyed the experience.  When we extend ourselves beyond our own comfort level for the glory of God, we are always rewarded beyond what we deserve.  And that’s grace, that’s the work of God in our lives.

We see in our Gospel today a God who is extremely patient bestowing his gifts of salvation.  He never closes the door on those who have turned away from him, but always makes it possible for us to find him, to go out into the field even though we’ve said no in the first place.  Much like last week’s Gospel story of the day laborers who began their work day at 5pm getting paid the same as those who had worked all day, it doesn’t matter when we respond to God, as long as we do.  Those who respond early clearly have more labor, but they also have more joy, more personal growth, more celebration in the Spirit.  But we all come together to the ultimate celebration in the Kingdom of our God.

We all know people who have been asked to go into the field and have said no.  Today we hear that the door is still open.  Our prayer today is that ultimately, they will respond to their Father’s invitation.

St. Vincent de Paul, priest

Today’s readings

St. Vincent became a priest with the expectation of enjoying the easy, affluent sort of life priests had in those days.  That was his goal in some ways until he heard the deathbed confession of a dying servant.  That encounter led him to realize the extremely great needs of the poor in France.

The servant’s Master had been persuaded by his wife to endow and support a group of missionary priests to serve the poor.  The countess asked Vincent to lead the group, and although he declined at first, he later returned to lead a group now known as the Congregation of the Mission or the Vincentians.  They took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability and devoted themselves to serving the poor in smaller towns and villages.

What makes St. Vincent particularly interesting to us at this time is that he also founded, along with St. Louise de Marillac,  a parish-based society for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick.  This is known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and we are currently forming one here at St. Raphael.  Vincent organized the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa.

I think St. Vincent heard the words of the wisdom writer in today’s first reading: “Rejoice, O young man, while you are young and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.  Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes…”  In his youth, Vincent was converted from the cynical and even slothful ambitions of the clergy in those days, and turned instead to follow his true passion, bringing Christ to the needy and the downtrodden.

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our first reading this past week has been taking us on a kind of tour of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.  Today’s pearl of wisdom, from the book of Ecclesiastes, talks about the seasons of a person’s life.  In some ways, the book of Ecclesiastes can seem to be the most pessimistic of the books of Scripture.  Based on the conjecture that the book may have been written by wise king Solomon, some say this was the book he wrote late in life, looking back on where life has taken him with a tired and cynical heart.  You can get that feeling as you read through the book of Ecclesiastes, but if you stay with it, you often unearth some treasures like today’s selection.

Today we hear that there is a time for everything.  And you can well imagine Solomon saying this at an old age, looking back on his life.  We all know that life takes us all sorts of places, some good and some bad, some pleasant and some unpleasant, some joy-filled and some laden with sorrow.  We need the one to appreciate the other, I think, and we pray for short times of unhappiness mixed with generous portions of joy.  Life ebbs and flows, and ultimately leads us to the God who made us.  I love the line toward the end of the reading: “He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts…”

Jesus too realized that his own life would be mixed with joy and sorrow.  After asking who they said he was, he instructed them carefully that he would suffer, be rejected, would die and then rise.  Here he links the sorrow in his life and in ours with the Cross, and the joy in his life and in ours with the Resurrection.  We can’t have one without the other, and through it all God is glorified.

The protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr summed it up aptly in his famous serenity prayer.  You’ve heard the beginning, but the ending is truly brilliant:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we continue our week-long quest for wisdom.  Today’s pearl of wisdom has us thinking about the things that worry us.  Herod was worried about Jesus to the point of morbid curiosity.  He was afraid that Jesus was some kind of reincarnation of St. John the Baptist.  He worried about what people must be thinking, he worried about the possibility of losing the throne, he worried about everything because he was kind of a low-level leader, and he’d be the first to go if there was any kind of trouble.

But don’t we worry about the same kinds of things?  We worry about what people are saying about us.  We worry about losing whatever control we have of whatever is in our lives, whether it is work, or family, or friends.  We worry about very real things like illness or the economy or the direction our loved ones are taking.  But what Qoheleth would have us understand in our first reading, is that this is all a handful of nothing.  It’s vanity, a chasing after the wind, a waste of the life we’ve been given.

And that’s hard for me to hear today because I’m a worrier, and come from a long line of worriers.  When I don’t think I have anything to worry about, I worry that I’m forgetting something!  (And I usually am!)  But what we all need to hear – me included! – is that God has all of this in his hands.  And even if everything doesn’t go completely smoothly, or if it doesn’t go the way we’d like to see it happen, it will all work out in God’s time.  Maybe the way won’t be bump-free, but the way will ultimately lead us to God if we stop trying to veer off the path and go our own way.  Because that is truly vanity.

Our prayer of submission to God’s will is the words of the Psalmist today: “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”  Amen to that.  There’s never a time when God lets us down or leaves us alone.  Even if the way is difficult, we are not alone on it.  God is always our refuge, in good times and in bad.  Thinking any differently in times of distress is nothing more than a chasing after the wind.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we begin a little excursion into the Wisdom Literature of the Scriptures.  The first readings this week will be from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, two of the strongest pieces of Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament.  Our friends in CREEDS studied the Wisdom Literature last year, so this is a bit of a nice review.

Wisdom literature in general was intended to praise God and heroic virtue.  For the Jews, the source of this wisdom was from God himself. 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.

Today’s bit of wisdom is one that finds its praise in justice.  That justice consisted of concern for the needy among us.  “Say not to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give,’ when you can give at once,” we are told.  We are exhorted to keep peaceful lives, finding our path not in lawlessness but in uprightness and truth.

The Gospel reading gives us some of Jesus’ own wisdom.  That truth will eventually win out and all that is hidden will be revealed.  Nothing will be hidden but instead will be revealed in the light of God’s kingdom as a lamp on a lampstand.

So today finds us to be wisdom-seekers.  As we begin our study of the Wisdom Literature this week, we may indeed find that God is pointing out a path to us, one that perhaps we had not seen before.  May we all be open to follow that path to justice, knowing, as the Psalmist tells us, “The just one shall live on your holy mountain, O Lord.”

Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Ever since I can remember hearing this parable of the day laborers, it has rubbed me the wrong way.  Maybe it does that for you too, as you sit here having just had it proclaimed to you.  Yes, the landowner describes himself as “generous,” but it seems like he is only really generous to those who came in to work at 5:00, only to work an hour or so, and get paid the same as those who toiled all day long.  It all just seems so unfair.  Why work through the heat of the day and put forth our best efforts, if we’re going to get paid the same as those who have done nothing but stand around all day?  Those of us raised with the American work ethic just bristle at such crazy talk, don’t we?

But when a Scripture passage rubs us the wrong way and makes us bristle, that’s really a good thing, because it’s usually an indicator that the Words have something important to say to us.

What’s interesting is that this parable in some ways is pretty timeless.  It’s not like the concept of day laborers has come and gone; we still have them all over our world today.  In cities all throughout our country, men and women continue to stand around waiting for work.  They are, perhaps, undocumented immigrants, those who cannot find sustained work because they cannot provide a social security number.  This election year finds that issue an important one.  How do we protect our borders and uphold our laws and still provide safety for those who are in need?

But whatever we may think about that particular issue, what we need to see is that the day laborer fills a particular need for handyman help and odd jobs, and helps those people to provide for their families.  But it is a precarious system.  The youngest and fittest among them will certainly find work early in the day – if there is work that day, but the more elderly among them might not get an offer that day at all.  And as much as we might feel justified in cajoling them for standing around doing nothing, we have to realize that they are really standing around worrying about whether they’ll be able to feed their families that day.  Would you rather work all day, or worry like that all day?

And you don’t have to be a day laborer to have those kinds of worries in today’s economy.  Those at the bottom of the pay scale know with acute anxiety the need to be able to work every day.  Missing just one day can mean the difference between being able to feed their families, or not; or to be able to fill a needed prescription, or not; to be able to make rent, or not.  So before we judge day laborers and low paid workers, we have to ask ourselves if we’d be willing to accept their worries for even just one day.

So think of all that anxiety and multiply it many times over, and you’ll understand the plight of the day laborer in Jesus’ day.  Poverty was severe, and about 95% of the people were desperately poor enough to be on the verge of starvation.  So those laborers standing around all day were quite literally worrying about whether they would feed their families that day.  For those still waiting for work at 5pm, the fact that no one had hired them could quite literally have been a death sentence.  What an incredibly extravagant gesture it was, then, for this landowner to have paid them for the whole day.  In that kind of poverty, a fraction of a day’s pay might have been too little to have met their needs.  But with the action of the landowner, they were given an incredible, wonderful gift.

But lest we still bristle for those who worked all day long, let us be careful to note that not one of the workers was treated unfairly.  They were all given the usual daily wage.  That those who worked a partial day also received the full day’s wage was an act of generosity, but not an act of unfairness to the others.

And maybe those full-day-working laborers should not have complained.  How strict an accounting were they really hoping to have from the landowner?  Had they worked their hardest all day long?  Maybe, maybe not.  Did they take an extra break, or slack off toward the end of the day?  Was the work that they accomplished of the highest possible quality?  We don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but the laborers and the landowner certainly would have.  And if their efforts were anything less than exemplary, maybe even their day’s wage was an act of generosity too.

Many years ago now, I heard about the deathbed conversion of actor John Wayne.  I thought at the time, “Gee, that’s convenient.”  Here he may well have led a life of excess and who knows what all debauchery and only on his deathbed was he willing to form a relationship with God.  Here those of us disciples have been working hard at it all this time, and yet some can get it just at the last minute?  That makes me bristle with thoughts of unfairness.  But, as the prophet Isaiah tells us today, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways.

The fact is, I don’t know what kind of life John Wayne led.  I haven’t walked a day in his boots.  I don’t know how long that deathbed conversion had been percolating in his mind or how much he had longed for it all through his life.  We disciples can be pretty inappropriately judgmental about those who don’t live the kind of life we think they should be, and that is just as off-base as the judgment of the earliest-hired day laborers in today’s parable.  The daily wage we are looking for is nothing less than salvation, and whether one receives that at baptism or on one’s deathbed, all the Church should rejoice that salvation was found at last.  Because that’s how God sees it.

And maybe we don’t want to ask for too strict an accounting either.  Because we come here today with our sins heavy on our souls, knowing that our labor hasn’t always been of the highest quality and our efforts haven’t been continuously stellar.  We ought all of us to accept the gift of salvation when it is given, in this spirit that it comes to us, and not be concerned about when it finally comes to others.  As the Psalmist tells us today, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him” – whenever that call is made.  Today we are being called to accept and love and celebrate the generosity of our God.  And all of us more-or-less hard-working disciples are blessed to be able to celebrate that in the most generous way of all, by receiving the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our God to nourish us and sustain us on the journey.  Thanks be to God for his great generosity to us in every moment!