Monday of the Twenty-second week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The defense St. Paul was making to the Corinthians in today’s first reading describes a way of living that might be very useful for us to consider.  Rather than caring about what people thought of him and proclaiming the word in a powerful way, he instead resolved to keep himself focused on Jesus and to say what he would have him say and live as Jesus himself would live.  His proclamation of example called those Corinthians to recognize a message not based on mere human wisdom but instead on the power of God.  We too can proclaim that same kind of powerful message in the way that we live.

Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time [C]

Today’s readings

For each of the deadly sins, there is also a life-giving virtue.  Today, our readings focus on humility, which is the life-giving virtue that is the antidote to pride.  Of the seven deadly sins, pride is usually considered the original and the most serious of the sins.  Pride was the sin that caused the angel Lucifer to fall from grace to become the devil.  Pride was the sin that caused our first parents to reach for the forbidden fruit that was beyond them, all in an attempt to know everything God does.  A good examination of conscience would probably convince all of us that we suffer from pride from time to time, and sometimes even pervasively, in our own lives.  It’s what causes us to compare ourselves to others, to try to solve all our problems in ways that don’t include God, to be angry when everything does not go the way we would have it.  Pride, as the saying goes, and as Lucifer found out, doth indeed go before the fall, and when that happens in a person’s life, if it doesn’t break them in a way that  convinces them of their need for God, will very often send them into a tailspin of despair.  Pride is a particularly ugly thing.

But, if you’ve been paying attention to our readings during these summer months, we have been building up a kind of toolbox for disciples.  We’ve had prayer and faith and some others in that toolbox, and today we are given the tool that unlocks the prison of pride, and that tool of course is humility.  But when we think about humility, we might associate that with a kind of wimpiness.  When you think about humble people do you imagine breast-beating, pious souls who allow themselves to be the doormats for the more aggressive and ambitious? Humble people, we tend to think, don’t buck the system, they just say their prayers and, when they are inflicted with pain and suffering, they just “offer it up.”

But Jesus described himself as “humble of heart,” and I dare say we wouldn’t think of him as such a pushover.  He of all people, took every occasion to buck the system – that was what he came here to do.  But he was indeed humble, humbling himself to become one of us when he could easily have clung to his glory as God.  He was strong enough to call us all, in the strongest of terms, to examine our lives and reform our attitudes, but humble enough to die for our sins.

And so it is this humble Jesus who speaks up and challenges his hearers to adopt lives of humility in today’s gospel reading.  One wonders why the “leading Pharisee” even invited Jesus to the banquet.  If we’ve been paying attention to the story so far, we know that the Pharisee had ulterior motives; he was certainly looking to catch Jesus in an embarrassing situation.  But Jesus isn’t playing along with all that.  In fact, one can certainly taste the disgust he has for what he sees going on at the banquet.

In our day, banquets are usually put together with thoughtfulness and with a mind toward making one’s guests feel comfortable.  If you’ve been involved in a wedding, you know that the hosts try to seat people with those of like mind, with people who might have common experiences.  It’s enough to drive a host to distraction, sometimes, because it is such hard work.  But in Jesus’ day, the customs were much more rigid.  People were seated in terms of their importance, and at this banquet, Jesus watched people try to assert how important they were by what places they took at the table.  This was all an exercise in pride, and it seems that Jesus was repulsed by it.  So he tells them the parable that exhorts them to humble themselves and take the lowest place instead: far better to be asked to come to a more important place than to be sent down to a lower place and face embarrassment.

But there was another aspect of pride taking place here as well.  The “leading Pharisee” had obviously invited people who were important enough to repay the favor some day – with one obvious exception – Jesus was decidedly not in a position to repay the favor, at least not in this life.  So he tells his host a parable also, exhorting him to humble himself and invite not those who are in a position to repay his generosity, but instead he should invite “he poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” – and know that because they cannot repay him, he would be repaid at the banquet of the righteous in heaven.

We don’t know how the guests or the host responded to Jesus’ exhortation to practice humility.  We do, however, know that Jesus modeled it in his own life.  Indeed, he was not asking them to do something he was unwilling to do himself.  When he said, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” he was in a way foreshadowing what would happen to him.  Humbling himself to take up our cross – our cross – he would be exalted in the glory of the resurrection.

The good news is that glory can be ours too, if we would humble ourselves and lay down our lives for others.  If we stop treating the people in our lives as stepping stones to something better, we might reach something better than we can find on our own.  If we humble ourselves to feed the poor and needy, to reach out to the marginalized and forgotten, we might be more open to the grace our Lord has in store for us in the kingdom of heaven.

This year, we are celebrating a Year of the Eucharist in our diocese.  We have been invited to a very important banquet, and we ourselves are completely unworthy of being there.  Yet, through grace, through the love of our God, we have been given an exalted place at the banquet table.  Realizing how great the gift is and how unworthy of it we are is a very humbling experience.  In that humility, we are called to go out and feed those who need to know how much God loves them.

For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Jesus had his skirmishes with the Scribes and Pharisees, but today he seems particularly exasperated with them.  And who could blame him?  They of all people should have known who Jesus was and should have been on board with what he was trying to accomplish.  But instead, they settle for the mere appearance of righteousness instead of really repenting of the evil inside them.

And we could really think ill of them for that.  But we must remember that Matthew’s gospel wasn’t written just to make the Scribes and Pharisees look bad.  It’s supposed to be an example for us and lead us to repentance.  So what inside of us needs to go today so that we may not just appear righteous, but also be clean inside?  May our Eucharistic Lord help us to be disciples in word and in deed.

Saint Bartholomew, apostle

Today’s readings

What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often identified with Nathanael in the Gospel.  That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today.  Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is picked out of the crowd by Jesus.  Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel.  There is no duplicity in him.”  We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people.  He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel.

That’s where we are all led, I think.  When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it.  If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have nothing to look forward to.  But the good news is that, by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles and especially Bartholomew today, we have every hope of eternal life.

Monday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel has Jesus taking the Scribes and Pharisees to task for forgetting what is really holy and treating things as sacred while ignoring God who is holiness itself.  Apparently, they thought that swearing an oath by the gold of the temple was more binding than an oath simply sworn on the temple itself: but, Jesus asks, isn’t the temple what makes the gold holy?  And they confused swearing an oath by the altar and by the gift on the altar.  They had forgotten that the altar is what makes the gift holy.  But even more than that, they had been so caught up in details, that they forgot that God is holy, and makes anything that can be called holy, holy.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying that people should disobey the first and third commandments, using God’s name as an assurance of an oath.  Swearing by the name of God isn’t to be taken lightly.  But what he is saying is that the Scribes and Pharisees needed to straighten out their flawed notion of holiness.  God is holy; and he alone makes holiness.

So today might be a call for us to take a moral inventory of our own notion of holiness.  What have we been putting before God?  What do we hold sacred?  Do we have idolatry in our life?  Do we sometimes forget that, as we say in the Gloria: “you alone are the holy one, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the most high…”?

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time [C]

Today’s readings

In my last assignment, at St. Raphael in Naperville, there was a huge football program for elementary school kids called St. Raphael Football.  It was not just a team, but a league, and lots of surrounding churches had teams in the league.  You couldn’t live in Naperville and not have heard of St. Raphael Football.  So once in a while, in a social setting, someone would ask me what church I was from, and I’d tell them, St. Raphael.  And they would say to me, “Oh yes, we go there, our son is in that football league.”  I always wanted to tell them, “How nice.  By the way, we also celebrate the Eucharist there.”  Maybe I should have.  Today’s gospel reading makes me think I should.

We – as a society – have it all wrong.  Our priorities are all messed up.  I think we’re in real danger, and today’s Liturgy of the Word is a wake-up call for us to get it right.  So this homily is probably going to come off sounding kind of harsh to some of you, but if I don’t say what I have to say, I’m not doing my job as your priest.  And I know, really I know, most of you get this.  So please indulge me; if this doesn’t apply to you, please pray for someone who needs to hear it, because you know someone who does.

When Jesus is asked whether only a few will be saved, he deflects the question.  His answer indicates that it’s not the number of those who will be saved – that’s not the issue.  The issue is that some people think they will be saved because they call themselves Christian, or religious, or spiritual, or whatever.  It’s kind of like the people I talked to who considered themselves practicing Catholics simply because their children played in a football league that was marginally affiliated with us.

Jesus says that’s not how it works.  We have to strive to enter the narrow gate.  So what does that mean?  For Jesus, entering eternity through the narrow gate means not just calling yourself religious; that would be a pretty wide gate.  The narrow gate means actually practicing the faith: living the gospel, reaching out to the needy, showing love to your neighbor.  It means making one’s faith the first priority, loving God first, worshipping first, loving others first.

And it’s hard to do that.  Saint Paul says today that we have to strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees; Jesus says that many will attempt to enter that narrow gate but won’t be strong enough to do it.  That narrow gate of love is hard to enter: it takes effort, it takes grace; it takes strength, and we can only get that grace and strength in one place, and that place is the Church.  That’s why Jesus gives us the Church: to strengthen us for eternal life.

That’s not the best news, however, because so many people these days settle for simply calling themselves religious, or being “spiritual” – whatever that means.  They’ll play football on the team, but won’t make an effort to come to Church to receive the strength they need to live this life and to enter eternal life.  It is here, in the Eucharist, freely given by our gracious Lord, that we receive the strength we need to love, the strength necessary to live our faith and be united with our God.  But it’s hard to get to Church because Billy has a soccer game, or Sally has a dance recital, or because Mom and Dad just want to sleep in.

But those decisions have eternal consequences.  So let me be clear: God is more important than soccer, God is more important than the dance recital, and as for sleeping in on Sunday, well, there’s time to sleep when we’re dead, right?  And it’s not like it’s an either/or proposition: people don’t have to choose between soccer and Mass or dance and Mass or even sleeping and Mass.  This parish has Mass on Saturday and at least four, sometimes five Masses on Sunday.  There’s probably a church within a few driving minutes of every football or soccer field in the western suburbs; I know a lot of families choose to take that option when schedules are hectic.

The point is, we make time for what’s important to us.  And eternal life is the only thing that we have of lasting importance.  So we have to build up the strength to get through that narrow gate one day.  We’ve got to worship God with consistency; we have to live the gospel with consistency.

We’re not going to be able to say one day: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets and we played football on your team.”  We can’t just call ourselves Catholic; we have to live our faith.  We have to reach out to the needy, stand up for truth and justice, make a real effort to love even when it’s not convenient to love, or even when the person who faces us is not as loveable as we’d like.

All of this requires commitment and effort and real work from all of us. We have to strive to enter through that narrow gate, because we don’t want to ever hear those bone-chilling words from today’s Gospel, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, you evildoers!” The good news is we don’t ever have to hear those words: all we have to do is nourish our relationship with Jesus that will give us strength to enter the narrow gate.  After all, the narrow gate is love, and the love of God in Jesus is more than enough to get us through it.

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The important thing is that we all come to salvation.  Those who have the benefit of being called earlier in their lives, perhaps being baptized as infants, have the blessing of being trained in the faith their whole life long.  If we’re serious about our faith, we are overjoyed when a new person comes to the Lord, no matter what point of their life they do that.  It is our Lord’s deepest desire that we all come to salvation, and so it has to be our constant care to keep going out into the marketplace, inviting anyone standing around to come to work for the Master who gives all of us more than we deserve.