Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

The problem is, as we well know, that we are a sinful people. That sinfulness goes all the way back to just after the creation, but we see it well in today’s first reading. The people Israel, having been led safely out of Egypt and having their enemies destroyed in the Red Sea, have soon enough forgotten the God who loved them into the desert and who longed to purify them in that desert for refuge in the promised land. When they lost sight of Moses and couldn’t figure out God’s plan, they fashioned a calf out of molten jewelry and began to worship its image. They had truly become stiff-necked.

And would that it had ended in the desert, but it didn’t. We have inherited the stiff-neckedness that plagued the ancient Israelites. Whenever we lose sight of God, we are constantly prone to worship other gods. Think about 9/11, whose horrible sixth anniversary we observed this past week. In the days following that tragedy, you would have been hard pressed to find a seat in any church. Not so any more. Do we need God less now? What gods have we embraced in the days since then?

And if we were pressed to admit it, I have to think we could understand God’s reaction to the Israelites and would have to admit it applied to us as well. We, just as well as they, have often been guilty enough to deserve being consumed by God’s blazing wrath. But that’s not the picture of God we get today, is it?

No, we get a picture of God who relents in punishment, and who not only offers mercy and forgiveness, but actually also relentlessly pursues his fallen people so that they will accept it. God is the shepherd who will leave behind ninety-nine sheep-crazy as that may be-to pursue just one of us who has wandered astray. God is the woman who having lost just one of ten coins stays up all night, having lit a lamp, and sweeps the house carefully until the coin has been found. God is that prodigal father who sees the sinner returning at a distance and runs out to meet him or her. God doesn’t relent in his pursuit of us until all the wandering have been restored to the fold, all the lost are found, and all the rebellious have returned to the table.

And God is not the one who stands there upon our return, arms folded, with a stern look on his face and says, “finally – what took you so long?” No, instead God calls together the neighbors and friends and begs them to help him rejoice and celebrate the lost lamb who has been restored to the fold and the coin that has been found. God is the father who kills the fatted calf, throws a fine robe around us, puts a ring on our finger and sandals on our feet, embraces us, and leads us to rejoice in our return. God is not content to simply treat us as one of his hired workers: he will not be satisfied until we are seated at his banquet table. God’s pursuit of us isn’t some kind of micromanaging megalomania, but instead a real longing expressed in action so that we can all join in the rejoicing that God always intended for us.

So do not leave this holy place without hearing this message. Yes, you have sinned: we are all that stiff-necked people. Yes, you have embraced gods that were not genuine: we are all tempted daily. But yes, God is pursuing you relentlessly, waiting in eager expectation, and exercising incredible patience until that day you return to him, heart and soul. What is on your heart right now? Where have you turned from God and embraced the worship of something or someone that is not God? How long has it been? When will you repent, confessing your sin and receiving God’s gift of mercy? How long will you keep yourself from feasting at God’s banquet table?

It’s as simple as approaching the Sacrament of Penance. In that beautiful Sacramental encounter, God waits for you, eagerly longing for your return. If you hear nothing else today, know that God has searched for you, lighting the lamp and burning the midnight oil, leaving the ninety-nine behind to reach out to you, peering out the window to see you on the road to your return. Those few Sacramental moments can be the beginning of new life and rejoicing in the way God always intended it.

If you haven’t been to the Sacrament in years, just say that. The priest is there to help you, not to judge you. Ask for help if you need it to make a good confession. But never stay away simply because you feel like you’re not worthy, or it’s been too long, or you haven’t done anything that bad, or you don’t want the priest to think badly of you (we do forget what you’ve said when you leave, you know!). Whatever the reason, don’t let that get in the way of God’s pursuing mercy. You deserve so much better than that, and God won’t rest until you’ve received it.

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

St. John Chrysostom

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

St John Chrysostom large

St. John Chrysostom was known to be a prolific, well-spoken and challenging preacher. The name “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed.” He spoke eloquently of the Scriptures, of which he had an extensive understanding, and applied their words to the times of his day. He was known, actually, to often preach for two hours or more! So, in his honor, I thought it appropriate to preach … oh, never mind.

John was manipulated by the emperor to become bishop of Constantinople, the capital city, because the emperor thought he could manipulate John. But he couldn’t. John would not be a kept man. So he would preach against the opulence of the wealthy and the mistreatment of the poor. He deposed bishops who had bribed their way into office. He would only offer a modest meal to those who came to kiss up to the bishop, rather than an opulent table that they had been expecting. He would not accept the pomp and ceremony that afforded him a place above most ranking members of the court.

But not everyone liked John. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing from John that private property existed because of Adam’s fall from grace any more than married men liked to hear that they were bound to marital fidelity just as much as their wives. When it came to justice and charity, John acknowledged no double standards. I have to admit, I think I would have liked his preaching!

What we should get from St. John Chrysostom, though, is that discipleship has to be imbued with fidelity and integrity. We have to practice what we preach. Today’s Scriptures call us to be loving, forgiving and thankful. Those can’t be just nice words that we think other people should do. We have to be those disciples who give lavishly of our personal resources, who forgive from the heart, who avoid judging and love all people deeply. If our living had this kind of integrity, then we could be “golden-mouthed” too, not so much by our words as by our actions.

Monday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Do you ever wonder what St. Paul means when he says that he is making up in his own flesh whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ? I always thought that was kind of arrogant. After all, didn’t Christ’s suffering pay the price, once and for all, and fulfill all the justice of God tempered with God’s great mercy? So what could be lacking in the perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, of course, the one thing that is lacking in Christ’s sufferings is our participation in it. Don’t forget that we are all the Body of Christ. That doesn’t just refer to the Sacrament we receive, nor is it a cute Church-jargon way of referring to the Church itself. Christ gave his body and blood for us, and so we too have become parts of his body. And as parts of his body, we must share in the bodily suffering that he endured for our sake.

So we may have to suffer persecution for doing good, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel reading. And we may have to suffer the pains of illness. And we may have to suffer the loss of loved ones. We may have to endure sadness and pain on many levels. When we do, we can do so with the attitude of joining our sufferings to those of Christ and thus making up whatever may have been lacking in Christ’s own suffering.

When we join our sufferings to Christ, we know that he is there with us. And though the suffering may remain, there can be a peace that comes from knowing that we are in God’s hands. The Psalmist says it best for us this morning:

Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.

Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s homily is lectio brevis because the youth of the parish were speaking today.

Today’s Gospel is incredibly challenging, to say the least. Maybe I should say it’s incredibly unsettling. But we certainly know that Jesus who loved his mother and father very much, did not mean that we were to alienate ourselves from our families. But today’s teaching does remind us that following the Gospel on our own terms is not possible. The call to discipleship is one that calls us to step out of our comfort zone, leave behind whatever ties us to the world and separates us from God, and follow our Savior wherever he leads us. So if our only sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God is maybe getting out of bed and coming to Church on Sunday, then Jesus is telling us today that’s not enough. In our offering of gifts today, perhaps we can all offer our God the opportunity to guide us to take the steps he wants us to follow.

Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's readings | Today's feast

mary birthThe birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated since at least the sixth century. This is not a historical feast, of course, and the date was chosen to correspond to the beginning of the Church year in the Eastern Church. The date of her birth also helped to determine the date of the Immaculate Conception – on December 8, nine months prior to today.

We don't have any historical account of the birth of Mary for several reasons. First, births were not recorded at that time very well, in fact we don't have an accurate date for the birth of Jesus. And second, no one would have known at the time of Mary's birth her significance in God's plan for salvation. But that significance does come to light prominently in the tradition that has grown up around her birth. It is said that Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, are infertile, and they pray for a child. They receive the promise of a daughter who would be central to the salvation of the world.

Every single birth is a sign of hope in our world, and therefore a cause for great celebration. Even though the world may be in a bad place, and dark from sin, birth brings joy because it is a sign of God's wanting the world to continue to bring salvation to all people. Mary's birth stands out prominently among us because of the grace she received from God who chose her to be mother of His Son.

The Byzantine Church Daily Worship proclaims well the joy that we have on this feast of Mary's birth: "Today the barren Anna claps her hands for joy, the earth radiates with light, kings sing their happiness, priests enjoy every blessing, the entire universe rejoices, for she who is queen and the Father's immaculate bride buds forth from the stem of Jesse."

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Holy Hour For Life

The basis for the movement to respect life, brothers and sisters, is the fifth commandment: You shall not kill (Ex 20:13). The Catechism is very specific: “Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: ‘Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.’ The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.” (CCC 2261) And that would seem simple enough, don’t you think? God said not to kill another human being, and so refraining from doing so reverences his gift of life and obeys his commandment.

But life isn’t that simple. Life is a complex issue involving a right to life, a quality of life, a reverence for life, and a sanctity of life. Jesus himself stirs up the waters of complexity with his own take on the commandment. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22)

We know the issue that has brought us here this evening. Planned Parenthood has quietly been building a large clinic in Aurora, very near to us here at St. Raphael. The clinic was set for opening on the 18th of this month, although that date may change, based on news today. That a large clinic which provides abortions may open in our area is abhorrent to us; we hate to think about that kind of thing happening so close to us. But the truth is, whether it’s happening next door or two states away, it’s still wrong.

Our bishop has called us to spend this day in prayer and penance for the cause of life. He says, “Prayer is our most powerful weapon. Pray that the Gospel of Life will take root and flourish in the seven counties that make up our diocese. Pray for all pregnant women in need, particularly those who find themselves in seemingly desperate situations. Pray for a conversion of heart in those who support and work at abortion facilities. Pray for healing of those who suffer the impact of abortion.”

I would like to invite us all to begin that prayer by examining our own consciences. We may proclaim ourselves as exemplary witnesses to the sanctity of life because we have never murdered anyone nor participated in an abortion. And those are good starts. But if we let it stop there, then the words of Jesus that I quoted a moment ago are our condemnation. The church teaches that true respect for life revolves around faithfulness to the spirit of the fifth commandment. The Catechism tells us, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC 2319)

And so we must all ask ourselves, brothers and sisters in Christ, are there lives that we have not treated as sacred? Have we harbored anger in our hearts against our brothers and sisters? What have we done to fight poverty, hunger and homelessness? Have we insisted that those who govern us treat war as morally repugnant, only to be used in the most severe cases and as a last resort? Have we engaged in stereotypes or harbored thoughts based on racism and prejudice? Have we insisted that legislators ban the production of human fetuses to be used as biological material? Have we been horrified that a nation with our resources still regularly executes its citizens in a futile effort to stop the spread of crime? Have we done everything in our power to be certain that no young woman should ever have to think of abortion as her only choice when facing hard times? Have we given adequate care to elder members of our family and our society so that they would not face their final days in loneliness, nor come to an early death for the sake of convenience? Have we avoided scandal so as to prevent others from being led to evil? Have we earnestly petitioned our legislators to make adequate health care available for all people?

Because every one of these issues is a life issue, brothers and sisters, and we who would be known to be respecters of life are on for every single one of them, bar none. The Church’s teaching on the right to life is not something that we can approach like we’re in a cafeteria. We must accept and reverence and live the whole of the teaching, or be held liable for every breach of it. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. On this day of prayer for the sanctity of life, our prayer must perhaps be first for ourselves that we might live the Church’s teaching with absolute integrity in every moment of our lives.

Our God has known us and formed us from our mother’s womb, from that very first moment of conception. Our God will be with us and will sustain us until our dying breath. In life and in death, we belong to the Lord … Every part of our lives belongs to the Lord. Whether that clinic in Aurora opens or whether it doesn’t, our call is the same. We must constantly and consistently bear witness to the sanctity of life at every stage. We must be people who lead the world to a whole new reality, in the presence of the One who has made all things new.

Bishop Sartain ended his beautiful letter with these stirring words. I can think of none better to send us forth as witnesses to life. “May we never tire of proclaiming the dignity and worth of every human life. May we never tire of serving the vulnerable and their caregivers with generous hearts. And may we never cease to pray for the day when all people, and all societies, will defend the life of every human from conception to natural death.”

Labor Day

Today’s readings: Genesis 1:25-2:3, Psalm 90, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, Matthew 25:14-30

5 1 joseph worker2The US Catholic Bishop’s Labor Day Statement reminds us that “Labor Day is a holiday with an important, but sometimes forgotten purpose. It was established in New York in 1882 as a day to honor work and workers and also a time to celebrate the contributions of the American Labor Movement. For too many, Labor Day has become just another day off or a time to buy school supplies, rather than a day to honor the hard work of school teachers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and others. Unfortunately, it often takes a horrible mining disaster or a terrible attack like 9/11 to remind us of the everyday heroism and hard work of people who still labor under the earth, who go into burning buildings, or who contribute to the common good by their everyday work and enterprise.”

Today we celebrate the grace of human labor. Labor has always been central to the Church’s teaching on the meaning of life. We were created to be workers, sent forth to “be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” God never envisioned his creatures to be passive and just soak up the atmosphere. We were created for a purpose, and it is the great project of our lives to figure out that purpose and embrace it.

Created by God, we have also been gifted by God, given talents of many varieties. Those talents and gifts are never given to us just for ourselves. We cannot bury them in a hole, but must instead reinvest them in the kingdom of God to bring honor and glory to God’s name. All of our work is intended this way, so that our own labors are a participation in the ongoing creation of the world, a participation in the mission that God has entrusted to his creatures.

It is this divine origin of human labor that has led the Church to teach tirelessly about the dignity and rights of workers. Among the many teaching of the Church on this topic, we are reminded that:

  • The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
  • A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
  • All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).
  • All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefit, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join union or other associations.

So we don’t have permission to write off human labor as some kind of necessary evil or a commodity to be bought and sold. We must instead venerate all labor, that of our own efforts and of others. We must also vigorously defend the rights and dignity of workers, particularly of the poor and marginalized. And we must always offer all of this back to our God who created us to be creators with him. May we pray with the Psalmist this day and every day, “Lord give success to the work of our hands!”

Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are two distinct experiences of God expressed in today’s readings. On the one had, there is that experience of God that is totally fearful: that God is too awesome to behold and no one can look upon him and live. That was generally the experience of God that the ancient Israelites had. If we think about it, many of us have or have had this same kind of experience as well. We may have grown up with this image of God as a policeman or dictator who watches over our every move and punishes us for all of our iniquities.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews, though, says that there is another experience of God. This experience is of God who is glorious and loving, and calls us to worship him in festive assembly. This is the experience of God brought about by the new creation: Jesus having fulfilled the Paschal Mystery now makes it possible for us to approach our God without so much fear and trembling, but rather with joy that comes from our salvation.

Now just as an aside, I would want to mention that these two experiences of God are not necessarily mutually exclusive, unless we ourselves make them that way. Because we have to be very careful to remember that God is still awesome and incomprehensible, and the experience of gazing on his face may still be quite frightening. But because of the salvation we have in Christ, that fear can be overcome and we can rejoice in our awesome God.

But now let’s look at that experience of God of which our second reading speaks. Listen again to what is proclaimed to the Hebrews:

You have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

What we have here is a vision of the heavenly worship. We are all gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. And gathered there are the angels, the saints, the purified souls of the faithful departed, God who is the judge of all and Jesus who makes possible our salvation. But it’s not just who is there, it’s the way they are there. The angels are in festal gathering, the firstborn are enrolled in heaven, the just are made perfect. This is the story of the Communion of Saints, brothers and sisters, and it is our hope.

Because if this is the image of the heavenly worship, and if that worship centers around Jesus whose sprinkled blood speaks more eloquently than that of Abel, then we who receive his precious body and blood in the Eucharist can hope to join that heavenly worship in the life to come. There all of our defects will be made clean and all of our brokenness will become whole. Our imperfect worship here on earth will be purified and made glorious with all God’s holy ones.

As we come to the Eucharist today, that table of the Lord to which has been invited all the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, we must remember with great humility that our God is awesome and beyond us and fearsome, but also gentle, and with us and our salvation. May we receive his precious body and sprinkled blood which gives us life forever, knowing that our worship is practice for that great day when we can finally join the heavenly worship with all the angels and saints, all the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and all the just made perfect. Because the heavenly worship space is the home that, as our Psalmist says today, God in his goodness has made for all of us who are poor.

Saturday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but the last few days in the Gospel readings, there’s been a lot of wailing and grinding of teeth. This section of Matthew’s Gospel spells out the urgency of the call to discipleship and the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Today’s reading is no exception.

When some people have been encouraged to take on a new ministry or share their gifts in some way, very often they will say, “Oh, I could never do that.” Today Jesus says that kind of thinking isn’t kingdom thinking. What today’s reading tells us is that there is no such thing as a “little gift.” We are all called and gifted in some unique way, and we must praise God with that gift no matter what the gift is and no matter how insignificant it may seem.

So whether we have a gift that looks like ten talents, or five, or even one, the call is still the same. No matter how awesome the giver may be, fear of failure can never be an excuse to bury our talent in a hole in the ground. Every single talent must be reinvested in the kingdom, so that we can come together and bring forth a harvest of justice and peace and life and beauty. Because, who needs wailing and grinding of teeth?

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