29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whose image is this?

I think this statement begs the question, “What doesn’t belong to God?” I think I’ve often missed this irony on Jesus’ part.

After all, Jesus certainly wasn’t preaching that we should compartmentalize our lives: every part of our lives belongs to God, and we owe it all back to Him. Every moment of our time, every earthly treasure we may own, all of our talents and gifts, our health and well-being, our very breath … all of this belongs to God. And all of it has been given to us as a great trust.

We are stewards of all that we are and all that we have. We need to get it right, and to live every moment as though we were borrowing these great treasures from our generous and giving God.

The thought occurs to me that these words may seem empty to those who have comparatively little. Those who don’t have great health, or great wealth. The unemployed and those with financial troubles. The aged and lonely. So many have what seems to be great poverty. Yet many of those who might be considered very poor can teach the rest of us how to get it right. So many who have comparatively little give what little they have, knowing it belongs to God.

Because with God it doesn’t matter whether we’re wealthy or not, healthy or sick: what matters is that we use what we have for God’s purposes and that we sing with the Psalmist:

Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wedding Garment

“But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”

Deacon Bob at my home parish today spoke of this parable as a case of someone wanting the Kingdom of heaven, but on his own terms. That really struck a chord with me. I had been thinking about the whole idea of the wedding garment as I lived with this Scripture this week. It’s a colorful detail that’s really hard to overlook in this parable, and I think it has to be explained homiletically.

It probably stands out because it can be seen as an example of Jesus being unfair. If the man was poor, as we can perhaps surmise from the fact that he was brought in off the street, how could Jesus have expected him to be in a proper garment? But we’re told by scholars that at the time, when someone threw a wedding feast, they provided the regal garments for their guests to wear. So Jesus wasn’t expecting the man to do anything difficult: he was invited, he presumably knew the custom, he was provided with a proper and beautiful garment, but he refused to put it on. He wanted to be at the feast, but on his terms, not those of the host.

The feast foreshadows the great wedding feast in the Kingdom of heaven to which we are all invited. Jesus goes so far as to have his servants call people in off the streets, from the highways and biways; he has his servants bring people in from wherever they are. And that’s the wonderful thing about the heavenly banquet: all are welcome, indeed, all are brought in, no matter what kind of garment they are currently wearing, because our God longs to meet us where we are.

And we are provided with a beautiful garment: in baptism we can clothe our souls in a garment that is regal and perfect. Our task is to put on that garment, to preserve the beauty of that garment and bring it unstained to the heavenly banquet. That’s the part that calls for our response: we have to accept the invitation, put on the garment, and preserve its beauty until the day that we are called to the banquet.

But there are so many problems that enter in. We are tempted in so many ways to accept ways of life that stain that garment, or even cause us to take it off completely. We may think we’ll have time to put it on and clean it up later, whenever later may be. We still want to be at the banquet, but we want to get there on our own terms. And it doesn’t work that way.

God forbid that we would arrive without the proper garment. God forbid that we would arrive with that garment in horrible condition. We have been given so much: the free invitation, the free garment, and all it takes is our own response. We have to accept it all on God’s terms, whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. So may we all accept the Kingdom on God’s terms that we might exclaim with the Psalmist:

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8-9

One of my favorite passages of Scripture today. It always makes me think twice about what I’m thinking about. A lot of the stuff we let ourselves see, well, we weren’t created to see. God wants nothing for the best for us, and He provides that. But we have to open our eyes to it and close our eyes to the false, the dishonorable, the unjust, the impure, the ugly, the ingracious, the mediocre and everything not praiseworthy. That’s a decision we have to make every day … every moment of every day. Those decisions get us a little closer to the Kingdom all the time.

Blessed are your eyes

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

During my CPE experience, this was a quotation of Scripture that greatly consoled many of us. We saw a lot of nasty stuff in those days, but we also saw some things that were really holy. People who died after a wonderful old life, ready to go to the kingdom; families who rallied around a sick or injured member; spiritual growth in our fellow chaplain interns. It was a blessed time, and I think we always knew that, even in the crazy times.

How true that is in everyday life. We see a lot of things that we would rather not see, but if we are looking and attentive, we see a lot of God’s grace at work as well. And blessed are we to see it.

The question for me right now — as difficult as it is to be at seminary now with the grief of our tragedies and the craziness of the Apostolic Visitation — is what is it that I am seeing that blesses my eyes; what is it that I am hearing that blesses my ears? That will be the focus of my prayer in these days.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us.

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:

It’s easy, I think, to distance ourselves from the point of the Gospel. We often think, well, I’m not one of the chief priests and elders, I’m a Christian, so I’m saved and I’m above reproach. But to do that does violence to the Gospel itself, and ignores the call to repentance that comes with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.

The point is that this call to repentance is for us. We are the chief priests and elders, and it’s our turn to hear the Gospel and react to its message. The point is that in Christ, God shows us sinners the way, as the psalmist proclaims:

Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.

We, then, must follow the way to justice, lest we remain in our sin as the chief priests and elders:

When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.

So may we too change our minds and believe, and follow in his way, that we may sing with the Apostle:

Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father!

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’”

Often when I’m reading a familiar passage of scripture, some part of it will jump out at me which has never really struck me before. This week, the part shown above of the parable of the workers in the vineyard really got me. It got me because I think it’s perhaps the saddest part of the parable.

These who have been standing around idle all day may well be those who even at the eleventh hour have not yet had the Gospel preached to them. The parable tells us that our Lord pursues his children up until the very last minute, because He wills that all should be saved, and that all should be gathered in to the kingdom of heaven.

Indeed that kingdom of heaven is symbolized in this parable by the persistent landowner, who returns to find laborers at every moment of the day, who gives generously to all, and brings all to the same reward. We can take heart as the psalmist tells us, because that’s just how our God is:

Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Harmoniae Euangelicae libri quator, 1540. Pitts Theological Library Digital Image Archive.

What an interesting reading to have had on September 11th. I think it’s so hard for us to even forgive the little things that happen in our personal lives. So then to be expected to forgive something as greivous as terrorist attacks on our country is really grasping for the impossible, it would seem.

The Church didn’t pull any dirty tricks putting this reading out there for Sunday. That’s what’s in the Lectionary for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A. It just so happens that corresponded to September 11th this year. But still in all, I don’t believe in coincidence; I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit who is clearly speaking, yelling to us in these readings!

Forgiveness was the major theme of Jesus’ ministry and mission, and so it has to be ours too. We must forgive each other from our hearts for the small and petty, and even for the ghastly and unconscionable. Have I done this yet? I’d have to say no. But the solution isn’t to abandon the pursuit of it as pie-in-the-sky. The solution is to take up the cross and forgive.

For truly “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” as the psalmist says. And we are expected to do likewise, lest we suffer the fate of the unforgiving servant in the Gospel reading. We, like him, are expected to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
for your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Yesterday I was out mowing the lawn. When I came back inside, I drank several glasses of cold, refreshing water to slake my thirst. So the image of “for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts” is one that is clear to me. And the whole idea of being “parched, lifeless and without water” is terrifying. Only in God can we find water for our thirst and only God can fill up the void that is within us. All we have to do is be away from prayer for a short time and we can find that our lives are adrift. The only way to survive is for our souls to “cling fast to” God whose right hand upholds us.

Perhaps the second reading makes it even more clear. We can be tossed about by all the philosophies and teachings of a world adrift in its search for meaning. But the only way to find rock solid truth and surety in our time is not to be conformed to this age, but to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

This is probably every bit as pertinent a question in our time as it was when Jesus walked the earth. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

For many, the question seems surprising. Of course he is Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter had it right. But does our behavior match what we would really say about that? Who is the Son of Man to us? What difference does it make that he is our God? It can often seem like the Son of Man is irrelevant in our world, and if we look deeply, sometimes in our lives too.

Because if we really knew that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, then maybe our lives would be more Gospel-centered. Maybe our words would be more healing and our actions more loving. Maybe we would take more time with our families than at our jobs. Maybe we would relentlessly pursue relationships with our God rather than relentlessly pursue more posessions that rob the world of resources meant for all. Maybe we would look past our own wants and see the needs of the poor and the oppressed. Maybe we would preserve the resources of the world that all might have enough.

Maybe if we really knew that Jesus is the Son of the Living God we would bind all those really important things and loose all the things that take us out of relationship with God. We really must live the truth that Peter proclaimed. It is only in doing that that we can one day hear Jesus say to us, “Blessed are you!”

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished
children of Eve, to thee do we send
up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley, of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us; and
after this our exile show unto us the
blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus;
O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God

That we may be made worthy of the
promises of Christ.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”
Rev. 10:11ab

What I have come to love about the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is what it means for us. The Assumption marks the feast of Mary’s Assumption, body and soul, into heaven. The Church believes that Mary never saw death, because of her virginity and her participation in God’s plan of salvation through the conception, birth, death and resurrection of her son, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary was a young girl with all the concerns of a young girl in that time and place. She was as yet unmarried, yet faithfully embraced God’s call, strange and unfathomable though it must have been to her. For me, her faith is incomprehensible. If I could have a tenth of it, my own faith would be increased immeasurably.

This humble girl, with great faith, was raised on this day to the heights of heaven that we can yet hope for. What the Assumption means for us is that as Mary has gone to exaltation before us, so we can hope for exaltation on that Great Day.

Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.

We are called to simply live our faith, not knowing where it will take us always, but always having faith that God will reward our efforts and raise us up from our fallenness.

We too can hope to be assumed into the great heavenly vision and rejoice when we hear that great voice say:

“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.