Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to confess that part of me dislikes the Gospel reading we have today.  Dislike is probably too strong a word: it just kind of makes me uneasy.  That’s because I don’t like the idea that there is some kind of competition between the duties of hospitality and the joy of contemplation in the Lord’s presence.  That’s how this reading often comes across, and I find that difficult to accept.  When I have guests over, I take it seriously.  According to my family custom, there is plenty – perhaps too much – food, and I try to make my guests comfortable.  That takes work – anyone who has ever had guests for dinner knows that, but I think it’s time well spent.

I’m also not wild about the idea that some often draw the conclusion that this reading places a higher priority on contemplation and prayer over the duties of ministry.  Stuff needs to get done; we don’t just show up and have beautiful Liturgy happen.  I think that if all we did was pray all day, we’d never get any of the Gospel done, and I don’t think that’s what our Lord intended.

Fortunately, I don’t think these are valid conclusions to be drawn from today’s Gospel – although I do think these conclusions are frequently drawn.  And that’s sad for any of us who want to be in relationship with our Lord and yet know that there are the duties of our vocation to which we must attend.  Nobody can spend all day in prayer, no matter what their vocation.  Priests have the needs of the parish to accomplish.  Parents have children to raise.  Everyone has the goals of their profession to meet.  And Jesus isn’t saying that any of this is wrong.

So let’s give Martha a bit of a break. Because there is a difference between the very legitimate and laudable act that Mary was doing – listening to the Word of Jesus – and just being plain old lazy. Many of us could be tempted down those roads too, and that’s not praiseworthy. And Martha’s tasks were important ones. The demands of hospitality in the ancient world were taken very seriously. And they were difficult duties, too.  Think about all that Abraham and Sarah had to do: knead dough and make rolls, slaughter a steer and prepare it, and put together some curds and milk.  A far cry from making a run to McChesney’s and popping some steaks on the grill!  Just as Abraham leapt to his feet in our first reading to welcome the three visitors and provide them with a beautiful meal, so Martha had things to do to care for her own guest.

But where Martha went down the wrong path was that she let the details of the tasks of hospitality overshadow the hospitality itself. In doing all the things she was doing, she had actually neglected her guest. Perhaps there was a way that she could have provided refreshment to Jesus in a way that didn’t take her outside his company for so long. Maybe a simpler meal would have sufficed. When the details of hospitality overshadow the guest, then it’s not really hospitality at all.

I think that what’s at stake here is balance in our spiritual life. We are not called upon to make a choice between being Martha or being Mary. We are called upon to be both Martha and Mary. These scripture readings speaks of the service of the disciple, in Greek the word is diakonia, from which we derive our word, deacon. This tells us that the life of the Christian disciple is about service. What we see in today’s Gospel is that there are two aspects of that service. The first is represented by Martha’s work, and is the kind of service that takes care of what is necessary in order that God’s will would be done: it is a service that reaches out to those in need. The second kind of service is represented by Mary’s work. Her work is one of contemplation: she sits at the feet of Jesus to absorb his words and his presence.

Both kinds of service are necessary in the life of the Christian disciple. Saint Benedict’s motto was ora et labora – work and prayer, and that’s the call we receive in today’s Liturgy.  The trick is keeping them in balance. Because it is Mary’s contemplation that gives us the spiritual refreshment necessary to reach out to those in need.  We have to be people of prayer. And it is Martha’s active service that gives meaning and context to our prayers and our preaching.  We have to be people who work. When we avoid either aspect of service, we are getting it wrong, and perhaps our Gospel today is a tug at our hearts to get it right.

So we need to make time for both our work and our prayer. We have to give priority to contemplation and Scripture reading and whatever kind of prayer speaks to us just as much as we give priority to the demands of our vocations, whatever those vocations may be. We have to let God speak to us in our quiet and in our activity, and to remember that doing God’s will sometimes means getting quiet and sitting still long enough for him to speak to our hearts. It may take a lifetime to get this right, but as we put effort into our service of God, we too will be choosing the better part, and it will not be taken from us.

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel story, the Pharisees are supposedly defending the law that the Sabbath was a day of rest, in accordance with the Third Commandment.  What the disciples were doing though, was to provide food for their own hunger.  The disciples weren’t rich men, and so we can probably surmise that they depended on the generosity of those with means who had been touched by Jesus’ message or ministry.  The Law itself provided that grain in the fields that was not taken up by the first pass of the harvest was to be left in the field for the poor.  But the Pharisees mostly didn’t care about the poor, so they wouldn’t have seen that application.  But even worse than that, they didn’t see that Jesus was inaugurating a whole new Law – one that God always intended – one that provided for the needs of people rather than just the minutiae of the law.

So we have to hear this too.  Because there is always the temptation to defend the rules instead of seeing how the rules apply to people.  Even our own Canon law, with its many rules and regulations, provides that the most important part of the law is that it is to assist in the salvation of God’s people.  The law is meaningless in and of itself.  Law is there to help people on the way to salvation, to help people to know Christ, who is certainly greater than the temple, greater than the law.  And so, whenever we’re tempted to bind ourselves with our own interpretation of the law or rules of the Church, we should instead submit ourselves to the Gospel, which is the only authentic interpreter of the Law.  For disciples of the Lord, there is something greater than the temple here.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

Today’s readings

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin woman. Her parents died in a smallpox epidemic – which left Kateri herself disfigured and half blind – when she was just four years old. She went to live with her uncle who succeeded her own father as chief of the clan. Her uncle hated the missionaries who, because of the Mohawks’ treaty with France, were required to be present in the region. Kateri, however, was moved by their words. She refused to marry a Mohawk brave, and at age 19, was baptized on Easter Sunday. At age 23, she took a vow of virginity.

Kateri’s life was one of extreme penance and fasting. This she took upon herself as a penance for the eventual conversion of her nation. Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”

Our call to personal holiness might not be as radical as Kateri’s was.  But we are called to embrace the cross and follow Christ wherever he leads us, and we may well be called upon to sacrifice whatever is comfortable in our lives to do it.

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s scriptures are full of place-names.  The places seem meaningless to us so far away in both time and place.  But in those days, those places were extremely important.  Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Samaria, strategic places in the ancient near east.  The Old Testament of course places preeminence on Jerusalem, God’s dwelling-place.  God sent Isaiah to prophecy that all of these would be torn down unless the people’s faith was firm.

In the Gospel, Jesus mentions Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon, Capernaum, and even Sodom.  He says that unless Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum learn the lessons of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, their fate would be much worse than those condemned places.

And so, what of Glen Ellyn, then?  Is our faith strong enough to pass the test of today’s Scriptures?  The only way we can be sure is through our faith and our witness.  We must be certain that each of us individually is living our faith to the fullest, so that our lives give witness to others.  Then, with the grace of God, we can convert our village, and our nation, and even our world.

Our task on earth is to build, with God’s help, an earthly city that will lead all people to the Kingdom of God.  Our prayer of faith today is, in the words of the Psalmist, God upholds his city forever.

Monday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It seems to me that the readings this morning are pretty direct, aren’t they? Isaiah makes it clear that if we pretend to worship God, no matter how beautiful our Liturgy may be, but forget about God as soon as we leave the parking lot, we might as well not worship at all. We must worship not just here in this Church, but in every moment of our lives.

Jesus is pretty direct too, isn’t he? He wants to upset the apple carts of our lives, to afflict us in our comfort. He isn’t asking us to abandon our families, but he is asking us to put discipleship on the front burner. His message is that every action of our lives must be directed toward taking up our crosses and following him.

But all of this comes with a promise. Whoever abandons themselves to wonderful pure worship in every moment, a worship that puts discipleship first and takes up his or her cross, that one will surely be rewarded.

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares seventy-two disciples to go out on mission.  They are to go out in twos, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick.  He sent them out to villages he himself intended to visit, more or less preparing the way for him.  It’s a moving story about how Jesus was able to accomplish much through the ministry of the seventy-two, even without being physically present with them.  But it’s not just a moving story, right?  You know as well as I do that the reason we all got to hear that story today is because we’re being sent out on mission too.  When the time comes for us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we have to be like the seventy-two, preparing hearts and lives for Jesus, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick.

So although we could read today’s Gospel as a nice academic exercise about what Jesus expected disciples to do, that’s not how we’re going to read it.  Instead, the Church gives us this Gospel so that, in our own mission, we will have a discipleship handbook.

If I could sum up today’s Gospel reading in a few short words, I think those words would be: discipline brings joy.  But I think those words aren’t easy for our world to hear; maybe they’re not even easy for us disciples to hear.  But for now, let’s bookmark the idea that discipline brings joy, and I promise I’ll come back to it.  But first, I would like to take a closer look at the Gospel reading and pull out some of the disciplines Jesus wants those first disciples, as well as you and me, to learn.

So the first discipline is this: don’t rely on yourself. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it? I mean, the only possible instruction in there that would make our travel at all easy is to wear no sandals – bare feet sure travel easier through security checkpoints! But we definitely need a money bag to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need for the journey.

This discipline is a hard one for me, because I always over-pack for a trip! But I think we’re missing the point here. If we were even able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we? Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following. Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy. Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in and through us.

Second, Jesus tells us to “greet no one along the way.”  That sounds pretty inhospitable, doesn’t it?  We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not what’s at stake here.  The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission.  Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way.  The point here is that there is urgency to the mission.  People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late.  We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.

The third discipline is: go in peace. Jesus says to the seventy-two: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” Those disciples were sent out with the peace of Christ, and were told to expect to be received in peace. The source of the peace they were sent out in was, of course, Jesus himself. The peace he is offering is not just the absence of conflict. In fact, their journeys may indeed involve some conflict: conflict with demons, conflict with illness, conflict with those who may not receive them or want to hear the Gospel. No, the peace he sends the seventy-two out with is a peace that they receive from knowing they are doing God’s will and that souls are coming back to God. It is a peace that says that everyone and everything is in right relationship, the way things are supposed to be.

The disciples are told to enter a place and say “Peace to this household.” So we too must also offer this greeting of peace to those we come to work with. There are a lot of ways to make this greeting, though. We could say it in those words, or perhaps through our actions: in not returning violence with violence; doing our best to diffuse anger and hatred; treating all people equally; respecting the rights of both the well-established and the newcomer; working to make neighborhoods and communities less violent; protecting the abused and the ridiculed. This peace is a peace that is authentic and that really works.

The fourth discipline, then, is: eat and drink what is set before you. This is again a trust issue. The seventy-two are to trust that since the laborer deserves his payment, the Lord will provide for what they need. But there’s a bit more to it, I think. Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were to be given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them. If they have been received in peace, then they need to know that they are in the right place. That doesn’t mean that the mission would be easy, though, and they need to take what’s given to them. We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but if we have been given it in peace, we have to accept the mission we have. We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts.

The final discipline is this: do not move from one house to another.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News.  The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry.  Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind.  We are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens.  When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.

The disciplines Jesus teaches us today are difficult ones.  In some cases, they’re even counterintuitive.  But if we want to accomplish what God wants to accomplish, then we have to do it his way, in his time.  We have to get ourselves out of the way and let him work in us and through us.  That discipline will bring the joy I spoke of at the beginning of my homily today.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Joyous disciples are the ones who bring unbelievers to the faith. They are the ones that bring God’s love to the forgotten and the sorrowful. They are the ones that make God’s presence and care known to those who have been marginalized and exploited. Following the discipline of Christ by relying on Christ – not ourselves, by bringing the peace of God to our missionary encounters, and by eating and drinking what the mission sets before us, this is the way to true joy. This is the joy of which the Psalmist sings, “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, sing praise to the glory of his name!”

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Amos and Jesus are prophetic voices that we hear in our Scriptures this morning.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with prophets, neither is a welcome voice.  Amos makes it clear that he is not speaking on his own, or even because he wanted to. If it were up to him, he’d go back to being a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. But he knows that the Lord was using him to speak to Amaziah, and he had no intention of backing down. In today’s Gospel, Jesus could have cured the paralytic with one touch and without much fanfare. But that wasn’t what he was there to do. He was there to preach forgiveness of sins by the way he healed the paralyzed person. Jesus used that simple situation of healing to be a prophetic voice in the world, saying to everyone present that real healing only comes about through the forgiveness of sins.

That unnamed, gender-unspecified paralyzed person could be you or me today, or someone we’ll meet during this day. Who among us is not paralyzed by sin in some way? To whatever extent we are the ones in need of healing, may we all hear the prophetic voice of Jesus saying to us: “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”