The question that Saint Paul asks at the beginning of today’s first reading is one that we’ve all heard countless times: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We might even be tempted to pass by that question and move on to something else in today’s Liturgy of the Word, but I don’t think that’s wise. Because it’s an important question, and one that confronts us all, in some way, time and time again.
We might go through a rough patch in our lives: loss of a job, death of a loved one, a severe and trying illness, damage to a marriage or strain in any relationship. These are the issues that try our souls and sorely test our faith. We might even at times be tempted to give in to despair and lose our focus in such a way that it affects our health and well-being. But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.
We might hear news that is difficult to absorb. Our society may be in a sad state of affairs; the political climate may be divisive and disheartening; we may be fatigued or even alarmed by the rise of terrorism and the proliferation of war; morality of our communities may be far off-base and all of this might cause us to question what is going on. We might be tempted to throw up our hands and lose all hope. But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.
There is someone, certainly, who is against us, and that one is Satan, and yes he and his threat are real. Even the celebration of this Halloween day might make us shake our heads. But Saint Paul reminds us that even Satan cannot ultimately take us down, because God is for us. Saint Paul quite rightly insists that “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That is the same consolation that comes from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Divine Mercy. It is the consolation for which we gather this morning at the Table of the Lord. It is the consolation that takes on every threat we encounter this day or ever in our lives: nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love. Nothing.
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, “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.” 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.
Today, we celebrate two apostles who, as often is the case, are relatively unknown except that they were followers of Jesus. Jude is called Judas in Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddeus. We have in the New Testament the letter of Jude, which scholars say is not written by the man whose feast we celebrate today. Saint Jude is perhaps best known as the patron saint of the seemingly-impossible, reminding us that in God, all things are possible.
Simon – and this is not the Simon who Jesus later named Peter – was a Zealot, a member of a radical party that disavowed all ties with the government, holding that Israel should be re-elevated to political greatness under the leadership of God alone. They also held that any payment of taxes to the Romans was a blasphemy against God.
Neither of these men held any claim to greatness here on earth; they found their glory in following Christ. Their joy was, as St. Paul instructs us in his letter to the Ephesians, in that their citizenship was in heaven, as it is for all of us. We are merely passing through this place, and our task while we are here, as was the task for Simon and Jude and all the apostles, is to live for Christ and to live the Gospel. The reward for them, then, as is for all of us, is in heaven, their and our true home.
Their message, as the Psalmist says, goes out to all the earth. Blessed are all of us when we catch that message and live that message, following the way to Christ Jesus.
Sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in his or her life 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 Saint 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.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 1, has always been one of my very favorite psalms. 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, as best 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.
There are two things: the promise, and the response.
The promise has echoed down through the ages. God called Abraham and promised descendants 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 promise 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 promises. 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.
St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.
St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in Huron, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois.
St. Isaac, St. John and their companions inspire us to take up the mission: to make Christ known, relying on the treasure of grace he brings us and promises us, and accepting that this world’s glory is not worth our aspirations. This will not be easy, of course, in a culture that largely rejects the promises of heaven in its pursuit of instant gratification. But perhaps the witness of these French Jesuits would help us to bravely witness to the Truth with the same zeal for the mission that they did. Our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to these men, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.