Monday of the Thirty-second Week of Ordinary Time 

Today’s readings

“Increase our faith,” indeed! How often have you had that same reaction to the marvels of God happening in your life? I think about the many times I have had the Spirit point out something I should have seen all along because it was right there in front of my face. Increase my faith, I pray.

Because, as Jesus tells us today, there are many things that cause sin, and they will inevitably happen. But how horrible to be tangled up in them, right? Whether we’ve caused the occasion for sin, or have been the victim of it, what a tangled mess it is for us. Maybe we have made someone so angry that their response was sinful. Or perhaps we have neglected to offer help where it was needed and caused another person to find what they need in sinful ways. Or maybe we’ve said something scandalous or gossiped about another person and those who have overheard it have been brought to a lower place. None of that makes anyone involved happy; everyone ends up deficient in faith, hope and love in some way. The same is true if we were the ones to have fallen into the trap of an occasion of sin. Don’t we just want to kick ourselves then? 

This is what the Psalmist was talking about when he prayed, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” Because when we are tangled up in sin, or brought low by suffering of some kind, we would do well to long for a glimpse of our Lord’s beautiful face. And God hears those words and answers them, because we can never fall so far that we are out of God’s reach. Listen to some more of the Psalmist’s excellent words today: 

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? 

or who may stand in his holy place? 

He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,

who desires not what is vain. 

Increase our faith, Lord, for we are the people that longs to see your face 

St. John Chrysostom

Today's Readings

John Chrysostom was a desert monk, living a harshly ascetical life, but a life that was fulfilling for him.  After twelve years of service as a priest in Syria, he was brought to Constantinople in an imperial ruse to make him bishop.  Even though the beginnings of his episcopal service were thus clouded in intrigue, his service as a bishop in one of the most important sees of the Eastern Church was incredible.  He quickly made efforts to clean up the Church, deposing bishops who had bribed their way into office, and refusing to become beholden to any political authorities.  His preaching was the hallmark of his service.  He was called "golden-mouthed" and his sermons were steeped in great knowledge of the Scriptures and spiritual insight.  Some of his sermons were over two hours!  (But, don't worry, I'll try to keep this one under an hour or so…)  He tended to be aloof, but energetic and outspoken, especially in the pulpit.  Soon he began to draw ire from the politically powerful, and was falsely accused of heresy.  The Empress Eudoxia finally had him exiled, and he died in exile in the year 407.

John Chrysostom was a great preacher of today's Gospel reading.  Against the politically powerful and those who bought their place in society, he preached "woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are filled now, woe to you who laugh."  Against religious leaders who were beholden to the politically powerful, he preached "woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."  Far more significant, though, is that he lived the beatitudes, and lived as one who was truly blessed when "people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil."  He knew that the most important judge of his ministry did not sit on an earthly throne, but rather had Kingship in heaven.  And he knew that even death in exile was not too great a price to receive the heavenly reward.

Our task is to live those beatitudes well.  We are blessed when we are poor, because the riches of God are incomparable.  We are truly blessed when we hunger, because only God can really fill us.  We are blessed when we grieve, because God can comfort us and give us true peace.  We are blessed when people hate us, because God's love is beyond all price.  There is a price to pay for all this blessedness, of course.  We may, like John Chrysostom, suffer the ill thoughts of others.  We may not have everything we hunger for in this life.  But we must be confident that living the Beatitudes will lead us to the rejoicing and leaping for joy of which Jesus speaks today.

Singing During a Homily

As you may know from my last post, I decided to sing parts of the Exsultet in my homilies last weekend.  That was a controversial decision for me; since I was thinking better of it after I had made the decision.  One of the parish staff members was good enough to share her own reaction to the homily, which I appreciated, and I responded to her by giving what amounted to my operative theology of homiletics.  Here's the gist of it:

1. The Exsultet is intended to be sung. If we're going to use the Liturgy to interpret the Liturgy (which is an important homiletic technique), we have to use the interpreting pieces as they were intended. If I decided NOT to sing the Exsultet pieces, I would not have used the Exsultet at all, and then it would have been a different homily.

2. I worried about singing it all the way up to the Ambo, but as I centered myself in prayer during the silent spaces of the Liturgy of the Word, God's answer was that I prayed for a homily that would say what God wanted me to say, and that I needed to trust that what was on that page was the answer to my prayer. It's an act of faith, but I do have to trust that given my own prayer and preparation, the word that is given is what someone needs to hear.

Given all that, I would probably do it again the way I did, because it conveyed the message I felt like I was being led to convey, and I have to be faithful to that. BUT, I never would sing parts of my homily, or even all of it (God forbid — and yes, I've heard that done — ick!) on a regular basis. The homily is never about me. Yes, it uses me and my life and my words, but always through the action of the Holy Spirit — more or less, according to my own faithfulness. Preaching is always risky. If it isn't, then it's not done faithfully.

Now a word about getting solid, honest evalutations of one's preaching.  If you're lucky enough to have a parishioner or staff member who is able to do that honestly, as I do, thank God for it!  People who do that for you are contributing to your homiletic ministry in ways that maybe even the two of you don't fully appreciate.  That kind of feedback is so much a part of the way the Holy Spirit writes our homilies, and it simply isn't appropriate to do without it.