Homily for Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Mary-and-Martha

There is a constant tension between the things of this world and the things of the next world. Most of us surely feel it — the ever-present desire on the one hand to become more spiritual and to grow in the life of prayer while always — at least to some degree — feeling the pull of the world and its all-to-ready reminders that the bills will not pay themselves.

I have to admit: sometimes I feel like I would be better off being a hermit… living like one of the early desert monks. Not worrying at all about the things of this life, but being totally focused on the Kingdom of God. Those feelings never last for long, because I know it’s an illusion. Living as a monk in a desert cave that isn’t quite big enough to lay down comfortably, walking ten miles each day for a drink of water, and counting on the passing raven to deliver a loaf of bread once in a while is far from a life of ease that would allow me to focus solely on the things of God. Besides, God never called me to flee from the world, but to engage it; to encounter the world and its people where they are

I’m guessing none of you are contemplating a call to retreat from the world. I may be wrong, and if so I apologize. Still, statistically, anyway, if one of you are then surely the rest are not. So most of you must be answering the same sort of call that God makes to me: to engage the world. To bring, to the best that we are able, Christ into the world. In other words, to do the work of mission.

Our Holy Father recently remarked that proselytizing doesn’t work. Going out and telling people how they ought to live will make you no friends. Evangelization works… but only just. Telling strangers the Good News will make you friends… just not that many of them. Mission, however, works. And it works well. You don’t go to the people — you go make friends. And once you make friends, they will notice the way you live. And if you are authentically living the Gospel message, then people will be attracted to that, and they will want to hear the Good News because they will want to know what is the source of the wellspring of peace and love they see active in your life.

Some of us are Marys. Some of us are Marthas. But all of us are called to mission: to — in whatever way we can through the course of our lives — live the Gospel message. To, as St. Francis said, preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.

If we each live this mission, it is very likely that none of us will change the world. But we can, with Our Lord’s help, do a little bit of good in the world… and it is those small good acts that, when put all together, can transform the world and can assist in bringing forth the Kingdom of God, which is present both now and still is yet to come.

Let us all pray for the grace to bring forth good in the world in whatever state of life God calls us to and that all of us — whether a Mary or a Martha — can choose the better part, which will not be taken from us.

Homily for Monday, October 6, 2014

In today’s Gospel reading, a scholar of the law asks what he must do to earn heaven. If a student of mine asked me that same question, I would tell him there is nothing that he can do himself to merit heaven. Salvation is an unmerited gift that depends entirely on the grace of God and our response to that grace. No one puts God in his debt so that the Almighty must give him eternal life. You cannot merit heaven yourself, but only through Christ can you be made worthy of the Beatific Vision. That’s what I would tell him, and in doing so I would be faithful to the unchanging teaching of Holy Mother Church.

But that’s not what Jesus tells him. Does this mean Jesus is wrong? Certainly not! Does this mean the Church is wrong? Certainly not! But… how can both be true?

Let’s look closer at what Jesus says. Our Lord tells the scholar he is correct when he says: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And that is the truth. If you do this, you will inherit eternal life, because perfect love is worthy of the kingdom of God.

But here’s the rub: you can’t love perfectly outside of Christ. Without Christ and the grace He brings, your love will always be imperfect. It will be nothing more than a dim, flawed reflection of God’s perfect love. It’s not a matter of one teaching or the other being wrong; both are right, they simply approach the same truth from a different direction. The scholar of the law asked how to earn heaven; Christ agreed with him that total love of God and neighbor would make him worthy of heaven… He just didn’t tell him that he couldn’t do that on his own.

Perfect love is worthy of heaven, but perfect love comes only from Him who is King of Heaven. Let us pray for God’s grace so that our love may be made more and more perfect, and thus bring us ever closer to the reward of eternal life, which Christ makes possible for all of us.

Homily for Sunday, October 5, 2014 – the 27th in Ordinary Time

Going by today’s readings, it is not a good time to be in the wine business. If your vineyard isn’t being made a ruin like in the first reading, then evil tenants are probably killing off your servants and even your son. No; being a vintner is not a safe business. You’d be better off being a farmer… or maybe a poet. So don’t go into the wine business. In fact, don’t even support it. If you’re in the custom of having a glass of wine with dinner, maybe it’s time to have grape juice instead.

Vineyard

Now, that would be a pretty shallow reading of today’s Scriptures, wouldn’t it? While I am one-hundred percent in favor of anyone making the decision to become a poet – in fact, my undergraduate degree is in poetry, which left my dad wondering how I ever managed to find a job – the fact is today’s readings are not at all about the dangers of the wine business.

There are different ways to read Holy Scripture and there are different senses in which a given passage can be understood. Traditionally the Catholic Church observes what are known as the Four Senses of Scripture: the Literal Sense, the Allegorical Sense, the Moral Sense, and the Anagogical Sense.

The Literal Sense refers to the actual meaning conveyed by the words and involves the actual event, person, place, or thing described by the text. The literal sense gives rise to the other three Senses, which are the Spiritual Senses.

In the Literal Sense, today’s Gospel passage presents Jesus telling a parable to the chief priests and elders. In that parable, a landowner plants a vineyard, finds tenants to manage it for him, and those tenants murder his servants and even his son.

In the Allegorical Sense, we can come to understand how those things presented in the Scriptures point to Christ and the Paschal Mystery. When you’re dealing with one of Christ’s parables, this sense of scripture is easy; this is what Christ is aiming for.

In today’s Gospel, clearly the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Holy Land. The tenants God selects are the Hebrews. The servants God sends who are killed, beat, or stoned represent the prophets who came to the people to call them to right relationship with God and who were rejected.

Finally, God sends his Son, but even the Son of God is seized by those who would usurp His inheritance and is killed.

The Moral Sense of Scripture instructs us in how Christian life should be lived. The Moral Sense of this parable is quite clear: Do not be the tenants. Note well that I do not say: do not be Jewish. There is a very old and very wrong understanding that the Jews killed Christ. The Church does not teach that and we should not believe it because the truth is we all killed Christ. We are all sinners and it is for our sins that Christ gave up His life. It is arrogant in the extreme to think that Jews alone are responsible for the death of Christ and that somehow no one else is to blame. Recall that the Jews were – and are – God’s Chosen People; without Jews who were faithful to God and who answered the call of Christ, we would not have knowledge of our Savior today. Some of the Jews embraced Christ; some of them rejected Christ, just like any other group to who has ever had the opportunity to know Christ.

So, don’t be the tenants – don’t be a person who rejects Christ and fails to see the great gift He gave us in his Crucifixion and Resurrection, because God “will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Which, as we know, is exactly what happened… and what may happen again to those who are unfaithful.

Finally, there is the Anagogical Sense of Scripture; in this sense, we see how the Literal Sense points to the Christian’s heavenly destiny and the last things. Clearly, the Anagogical Sense here calls us to friendship with God, for competition with God and trying to claim what is God’s for ourselves ends badly. Very, very badly.

The Church carefully selects her readings so that all the readings we hear proclaimed share a common element or elements for our instruction. Clearly, the first reading and the Gospel share a common theme: a fertile vineyard that is given and then taken away and given to someone else.

The Psalm today draws a clear parallel between the two in the responsorial strophe: The vineyard of the Lord is the House of Israel. In the psalm, there is a cry to God: a cry to take care of the vine and for God to restore it, and the Christian can take great joy in this for we all know that Christ is the vine and we are the branches.

But look at what happens in the second reading. We see the key to understanding what we are called to do in today’s readings. How can we make sure we are not the unworthy servants? How can we know that we are not among those tenants who would kill the Son and try to steal His inheritance?

“Finally, brothers and sisters,” Paul writes, “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. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Whatever is true. Whatever is just. Whatever is pure. Whatever is lovely. These are the things we are called to do. This is the life of the Christian. We are called to excellence. We are called to the company of God. We cannot be the grasping, greedy tenant; we must be the friend of God. We must dedicate ourselves to pruning away what is bad and cultivating that which is just, and true, and good.

We are called by God to be true citizens of the Kingdom. We respond to God’s call not through our own merit, but through the merit of Him who saves us. Let us always pray for the grace to be worthy citizens of the vineyard… to be worthy citizens of the Kingdom of God and let us strive always for the good, the true, and the beautiful… for those things worthy of praise, so that the God of peace can remain with us always.

Reflection for Saturday, October 4, 2014

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered,” Job says to God. And in today’s Gospel reading, the seventy-two disciples return to Christ rejoicing because even the demons were subject to them because of Jesus.

We know that Christ is the Son of God and is God, incarnate among us. We to whom faith is given know that God can do all things, and that without Jesus we are nothing. Our Lord Himself says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Without the revelation of Christ, we would not be able to have a personal relationship with God, for it is this revelation that makes knowing God intimately possible.

We are blessed because we are called into a relationship with Our Lord and Savior. Let us pray always for the grace to respond to that call with genuine love of God and neighbor, which is what our call compels us to do.

Homily for Wednesday, Oct 1, 2014

My baby sister has a saying she is very fond of, and today’s Gospel really brought that saying to mind for me. “Dude. You’re harshing my mellow.” I think she got it from Confucius. Or maybe it was Walt Whitman. She uses it when someone is pointing out that the world isn’t always a land of warm fuzzies and good feelings.

It is good to remember that the Christian life isn’t always a land of warm fuzzies and good feelings. It’s the Good News, not the feel good news. The Christian is called to a very high standard; we are called to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

In today’s readings, we hear Jesus telling some of his disciples that being His disciple is not going to be what they expect; He is telling them that they will be His disciple on His terms – not on theirs. I will follow you wherever you go, says one, and Jesus explains that the journey is not going to be easy. Another offers an excuse – a very good excuse – to put off doing what he is called to do, but even this duty to bury his father does not override the duty he has to his Lord. The final disciple wants to follow the Lord… but not yet.

We never know what tomorrow may bring, but we do know the Lord is calling us today. Let us pray for the grace to be able to answer the call we receive on the Lord’s terms and for the grace to be worthy disciples of Christ