Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God’s salvation is radical.  Zechariah, in the first reading, is speaking to the broken Israel.  On account of its sins, it was taken into captivity and exiled to Babylon.  The fate they suffered was well deserved.  Generations had rejected the Lord’s covenant, had instead turned to the pagan gods worshipped by the people in the surrounding areas.  They had profaned the temple with the worship of foreign gods and every one of their kings led them to evil upon evil.  So why would the Lord ever care about them again?  Couldn’t he just throw up his hands and say, “I’m done”?

But he doesn’t say that.  He’s not done.  He fully intends to restore the people, gathering them from the land of the rising sun and from the land of the setting sun, that is from the east to the west, and from the beginning to the end, everywhere over all the earth, in every time and place, and gather them back to himself, restoring Israel and making Jerusalem a holy city once again.

All of this is a metaphor for our own need for salvation, of course.  How often have we as a culture rejected God’s covenant?  How much have we as individuals sinned?  How much have our leaders led us to the worship of foreign gods, like wealth and power?  We too have found evil upon evil and have rejected our God.  We would well deserve it if he threw up his hands in our midst and said to us, “I’m done.”

But he doesn’t say that.  He’s not done.  He fully intends to gather us from wherever we have wandered, whenever we have fallen away.  No place is beyond the reach of our God who longs to bring us back to himself.  There is no place that we can go that is beyond God’s love.  It is never too late to experience salvation.  Nothing is impossible for our God who made us for himself.

God’s salvation is radical.

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: The new translation of the Creed

Over the next several weeks, Father Steve, our deacons, and I will be preaching about the upcoming changes to the Mass.  As you know, we will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal beginning the first Sunday of Advent this year, which is November 27.  We’ve already begun teaching and using the newly-translated musical parts of the Mass, but we can’t begin using the new prayers until November 27.  We can, however, teach them, which is what we’re doing now.  Over the past several months, Deacon Al and I have been writing about the changes to the Missal in our bulletin columns.

Today, Father Steve and I are both preaching about the Creed, which we proclaim as an assembly every Sunday and Solemnity.  The Creed is one of the symbols of our unity as a people.  It’s appropriate that before we come to the Altar together to receive Holy Communion, the most important manifestation of our unity, we take time to proclaim as one body what we believe to be the Truth.  And so, following the exhortations from Holy Scripture, we rise and proclaim our belief in one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and our belief in the Church and all that She professes to be true.

Now, like many of the prayers that have become so familiar to us, I think we can find ourselves reciting the Creed without really thinking about it.  How often have we gotten to the end of the prayer, only to think that we don’t remember praying much of it as we went along?  I know that’s happened to me.  This is too bad, because the Creed didn’t just fall out of the sky: it was crafted over many years with many modifications and tweaks to get the language right.  Many arguments happened over the wording in ancient days, and some even gave their lives to defend the faith as professed in the Creed.  To this day, there are a few words in the Creed, with regard to the Holy Spirit, that remain a point of contention between us and the Orthodox Churches of the East.

The full name of the Creed that we pray is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  This is in reference to the belief that the Creed was crafted, or at least accepted by the Church Council of Nicaea in the year 325 and the Council of Constantinople in the year 381.  At these Councils, the Council Fathers attempted to finalize the wording of the Creed, which had been argued about for many years, in order to put the controversies to rest.

So maybe it’s important enough for us to take a little more care in the way that we pray the Creed.  And rather than beat ourselves up over the way we may have prayed it in the past, maybe we can make a resolution as this new translation comes to us, to pray it more carefully, as carefully as we are able.  Toward that end, I’d like to take a little time today to look at the new translation of the Creed and point out what’s new and explain that a little bit.  So if you take out your Gather books, and open up to the front where we have the new Order of Mass inserted, I would ask you to turn to page ____.  Let’s look at the Creed there together.  I want to point out four new things in the creed.

The first is right at the beginning.  Instead of saying, “of all that is seen and unseen,” we will be praying “of all things visible and invisible.”  So the issue here is that there is a difference between something being unseen and invisible.  Let me explain it to you this way:  you probably cannot see your house from here, so it is unseen.  But I think you’d agree that your house is certainly not invisible!  On the other hand, there certainly are some things that are invisible.  When I discussed this with the third graders last year, they came up with a list, including things like air, which is invisible, but certainly present.  What we are saying is that God created all things: seen, unseen, visible and invisible.

The second issue is a bit tougher, because it’s a word we don’t use in other contexts.  And that comes about a quarter of the way down with the word “consubstantial.”  The words “consubstantial with the Father” replace the words “one in being with the Father.”  This wording is more in keeping with the Latin text of the Creed, and a more accurate translation.  “Consubstantial” is a translation of the Latin consubstantialem, which is a translation of the Greek word homoousion.  Think of homoousion as similar to homogenous, because that is the root word.  Basically it means “of the same substance.”  So what we’re saying is that the Father and the Son are of the same substance of each other.  That’s similar to “one in being,” but I think it goes a little deeper.  There is a sense in which all of us are “one in being” with each other, but we certainly are not of the same substance of each other, certainly not one and the same as each other.  But the Father and the Son are that closely related; they are not Father and Son in the same way as humans are, they are actually of the same substance!

The next difference is about five lines down.  It says that Jesus “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”  This replaces the words saying that “he was born of the Virgin Mary…”  “Incarnate” means a little something deeper than just “born.”  It means taking flesh, being embodied in a human form.  Of course, this is what happens to our souls when we are born, but for Jesus, something deeper happened.  He wasn’t just born in a human way, he lowered himself, and became one of us.  It happened in a supernatural form of conception which was accomplished through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  His incarnation was so much more than a human birth.

The last difference involves a word which might seem to be used in an odd sense, or in a sense we’re not used to.  That comes almost all the way down to the end, about four lines up.  It says, “I confess one baptism…” instead of “We acknowledge one baptism…”  Now when we say the word “confess,” it usually means we are about to tell the priest our sins, doesn’t it?  But the original sense of the word “confess” was something along the lines of “to give witness to.”  The profession of faith used to be called a confession of faith.  And when we “confess” in the Sacrament of Penance, we are giving witness to the goodness and mercy of God and in light of that, reflecting on how we have fallen short.  So the confession has more to do with who God is than what we have done.  So when we “confess one baptism,” we are giving witness to the fact that one baptism is enough: it binds us to Christ who in his mercy calls us to redemption and eternal life.

So that’s what’s new in the new translation of the Creed.  One of the more obvious changes, though is that instead of saying “we believe,” we will be saying, “I believe.”  In this way, I think we can see that we are not speaking for the others around us, but with all of us speaking together, we can hear what “we believe” and can truly become one body, one spirit in Christ.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, seeming to ignore what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

Psalm 19 says, “your words, Lord, are spirit and life.”  We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel reading gives me the opportunity to talk a bit about the new translation of the Roman Missal.  As you may know, we will begin using that translation at Mass beginning on the first Sunday of Advent this year, November 27th.  We have already begun using the sung parts of the Mass, with permission from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  But the recited parts have to wait until November.

One of those recited parts is the response to the priest’s invitation to adoration just before receiving Communion.  The new translation of that prayer is this:

Behold the Lamb of God,
behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
And the people’s response, also new, is this:

Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed.

I think you can see the similarity here between this prayer and the confession of faith that the centurion makes in today’s gospel reading.  He had faith that Jesus could heal his servant and did not want to even trouble Jesus to come under his roof, unworthy as he was.

When we receive the Eucharist, we do it confessing our own unworthiness, but also professing the same faith that that centurion had.  We know that we are unworthy, but we trust in the worthiness of our Savior, who transforms us completely and makes us worthy in the sight of God.

God is calling us to become worthy by accepting his mercy and forgiveness.  What is the word that Jesus needs to speak to us today, so that our souls can be healed?

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Liturgy in these past summer months has been teaching us how to be disciples of Jesus.  Today, the readings give us another tool for the disciple, and that tool is forgiveness.  These readings come on the heels of what we heard last week, which was about the way the Christian disciple resolves conflict.  Forgiveness is the natural conclusion to that discussion.

In the Gospel, Peter wants the Lord to spell out the rule of thumb: how often must we forgive another person who has wronged us?  Peter offers what he thinks is magnanimous: seven times.  Seven times is a lot of forgiveness.  It was more than the law required, so Peter felt like he was catching on to what Jesus required in living the Gospel.  But that’s not what Jesus was going for: he wanted a much more forgiving heart from his disciples: not seven times, but seventy-seven times!  Even if we take that number literally, which we shouldn’t, that’s more forgiveness than we can begin to imagine.  But the number here is just to represent something bigger than ourselves: constant forgiveness.

The parable that Jesus tells to illustrate the story is filled with interesting little details.  The servant in the story owes the master a huge amount of money.  Think of the biggest sum you can imagine someone adding and add a couple of zeroes to the end of it.  It’s that big.  He will never repay the master, no matter what efforts he puts forth.  So the master would be just in having him and everything he owned and everyone he cared about sold.  It still wouldn’t repay the debt, but it would be more than he would otherwise get.  But the servant pleads for mercy, and the master gives it.  In fact, he does more than he’s asked to do: he doesn’t just give the servant more time to pay, he forgives the entire loan!  That’s incredible mercy!

On the way home, however, the servant encounters another servant who owes him a much smaller sum than he owed the master – like ten or twenty bucks.  But the servant has not learned to forgive as he has been forgiven: he hands the fellow servant over to be put into debtor’s prison until he can repay the loan.  But that in itself is a humorous little detail.  In prison, how is he going to repay the loan?  He can’t work, right?  So basically the fellow servant is condemned for the rest of his life.

We don’t have to do a lot of math or theological thinking to see the injustice here.  The servant has been forgiven something he could never repay, no matter how much time he lived.  But he was unwilling to give that same forgiveness to his fellow servant; he was unwilling to give him even a little more time to repay the loan, which the other servant certainly could have done.  That kind of injustice is something that allows a person to condemn him or herself for the rest of eternity.  The disciple is expected to learn to forgive and is expected to forgive as he or she has been forgiven.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We can’t just say that all the time; we actually have to do it.

At this point, I could diverge a few different ways.  We could talk about sin, salvation and eternity.  But I think, given what today is, I’ll just stay a little basic.  Let’s stick with the theme that presents itself: forgiveness and our ability to forgive, be it once or seven times, or seventy-seven times.

This call to a kind of heroic forgiveness takes on a new meaning today, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks against our nation on September 11, 2001.  Rest assured, these readings were not “chosen” in some way for this day: we use a three-year cycle of readings and so these readings just so happened to come up today.  But I wonder, of course, if God didn’t give us these readings for today on purpose.  I think maybe we are being invited to be more forgiving, even considering the huge debt that is owed to us, in terms of the wrong that was done to us.

I don’t think anyone would say our world is significantly more forgiving today than it was ten years ago.  We still have conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in many other places.  In fact, I’ve read that as many as a third of the nations of the world are currently involved in some sort of conflict.  In fact, a military response to what happened to us ten years ago may be what justice demands.  And we owe a great debt to those who are fighting to keep our nation safe.  But I don’t think we can stop with that.  We will never find the ultimate answer to terrorism and injustice in human endeavor.  We have to reach for something of more divine origin, and that something, I think, is the forgiveness that Jesus calls us to in today’s gospel.

And it starts with us.  We have been forgiven so much by God.  So how willing have we then been to forgive others?  Our reflection today might take us to the people or institutions that have wronged us in some way.  Can we forgive them?  Can we at least ask God for the grace to be forgiving?  I always tell people that forgiveness is a journey.  We might not be ready to forgive right now, but we can ask for the grace to be ready.  Jesus didn’t say it would be easy, did he?

Because every time we forgive someone, every time we let go of an injustice that has been done to us, the world is that much more peaceful.  We may well always have war and the threat of terrorism with us.  But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.  That doesn’t mean we have to participate in it.  If we choose to forgive others, maybe our own corner of the world can be more just, more merciful.  And if we all did that, think of how our world could be significantly changed.

In 2008, Pope Benedict visited the site of Ground Zero in New York.  This was the prayer he prayed there:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain….

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.