Homily for Thursday, October 2, 2008

Memorial of the Guardian Angels

(Matthew 18:1-5;10)

We should not understand Jesus to mean that only children have guardian angels. His vision is more inclusive than that. This truth is evidenced in the gospel passage of which today’s reading forms the beginning and middle. Jesus is warning his disciples to look after weak Christians who may stray from practicing the faith. When errant Christians stop praying or when they choose pleasure over doing God’s will, the disciples are to call them back to righteousness. Jesus makes clear that if the disciples fail to intervene, they will face dire consequences since weak Christians have angels in direct communication with God.

Although we may console ourselves with the thought of having guardian angels to look after our welfare, we should as well hear Jesus’ warning in the greater gospel passage. We who come to daily Mass are strengthened to assist weaker Christians. This does not mean that we nag them but that we show them concerned care. We need to share with them our faith in God as the one who provides full happiness. We also want to model for them the joy of living the Gospel. Finally, we will pray for them not just once but regularly.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Job 9:1-12; 14-16)

“Your arms are too short to box with God” is the way one author chooses to describe what Job says in the first reading. Despite the way some believers talk about God as if He were a next door neighbor, Job recognizes that God is further beyond us than the ends of the universe.

Because of God’s transcendence, our initial reaction coming into His presence must be one of fear and awe. It is like a space voyageur’s coming into the vicinity of a black hole that can consume a galaxy. However, we know more about God than that He is other and all-powerful. With Jesus God reveals Himself as our Father whose univocal stance toward us is love. For this reason there is no need to fear God when we strive to conform to His loving will.

Few people have understood our relationship with God more than St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Called to monastic life as a teenager, she responded to God’s paternal care with simple acts of charity. She wrote, “The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love." Like everyone else, Thérèse’s arms were too short to box with God but quite sufficient to perform acts emulating His love.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 30, 2008

St. Jerome priest and doctor of the Church

(Luke 9:51-56)

We sometimes see images of St. Jerome with a lion at his side. Those who know little about him opine that Jerome befriended lions much like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Martin de Porres endeared themselves to smaller animals. But much more likely the lion represents St. Jerome himself whose anger for his enemies flared to a rage at times. The heretic Pelagius was one who felt the incandescent brilliance of Jerome’s anger.

In the gospel Jesus’ disciples James and John demonstrate a similar tendency to rage. Learning that the Lord will not be welcome in a Samaritan village, they want to call down fire upon the place. They have quickly forgotten Jesus’ own instructions for the eventuality. Jesus told his apostles that if villagers refuses to welcome their mission of goodwill, they were only to “shake the dust your feet in testimony against them.”

Jerome is a saint despite his irascibility not but because of it. We may be sure that he mastered it before entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus counsels forbearance and forgiveness when people rebuke our best efforts. Uncontrolled anger has no place in his following.

Homilette for Monday, September 29, 2008

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

(Revelation 12:7-12)

When the ghost of his father appears to Hamlet in Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet is alone. The ghost then explains to Hamlet how he was murdered. When Hamlet’s friends arrive and ask what news he has, Hamlet demands an oath of secrecy before he will tell them. The voice of the ghost chimes in to underscore the need of swearing secrecy. Hearing that voice, Hamlet’s companion Horatio blurts, “...this is wondrous strange.” The grand protagonist counters, “...There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Many people today – as, no doubt, in other ages -- find the doctrine of angels “wondrous strange” as Horatio found the ghost’s voice. Believing in only what they can see and hear, they doubt the existence of heavenly spirits. As Hamlet would say, angels are not parts of their philosophy. But we Catholics, who accept the spiritual realm where God dwells, should forthrightly accept the doctrine of angels. As Scripture attests in numerous places, angels exist as attendants to God carrying out His commands.

Today’s feast of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael really celebrates God’s mercy. As the stories of these angels show, God uses angels to assist humankind. As Michael wages war with Satan, as Gabriel announces the coming of Christ, and as Raphael guides the journeyer Tobias, so God continually sends angels to provide us the means to reach our eternal destination. We can think of angels as God’s loving hand extended to us in need.

Homilette for Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 9:18-22)

Do we really mean what when we say in the “Our Father,” “Thy will be done”? Sure, as long as that will is peace in the world and bread on the table, we want it. But how about when God’s will implies our having to suffer, are we still open to it? In the gospel today Jesus does not shrink from accepting God’s will, no matter the costs.

Jesus is praying. Such a posture in Luke’s gospel signals a significant event about to take place. Then he asks his apostles how the people consider him. They respond, some as “John the Baptist,” an Elijah figure; others as “Elijah” himself, who was to reappear before the coming of the Christ (Messiah); and still others as “one of the ancient prophets” in the role of Elijah. Jesus in the eye of the public, then, is only the forerunner of whom he really is.

Then Jesus asks the apostles their own opinion. After witnessing his exorcisms and cures as well as his transfiguration, Peter can reply without reservation on behalf of all. For the apostles Jesus is the Christ who has come to establish God’s kingdom on earth. This is good news, of course, but it possesses a tragic underside. In the process of establishing the kingdom of God Jesus will suffer greatly and be killed. There is no way to avoid this destiny. It “must” happen because it is God’s will.

When we face serious troubles in our lives that seem to be God’s will for us, we should recall Jesus’ conformity to that will in this gospel. He does not whine, much less despair. Knowing that God’s will is ultimately benign, Jesus seems only to pray with more confidence, “Our Father,...Thy will be done.”

Homilette for Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)

Over a generation ago physicist Steven Weinberg wrote, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." He meant that from all that scientists have learned, it seems that human knowledge will become extinct while the universe will stretch endlessly through time. Weinberg seems akin to Qoheleth, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes whom we hear in the first reading today. At least, both caution against optimism about the future whether we are look for an indomitable human achievement or for human heroes who will transcend time.

Qoheleth is really not a curmudgeon. When he writes that “all is vanity,” he does not mean that human effort is useless and human joy will inevitably sour. His use of “vanity” only indicates that people should not place their hopes in new ideas which are not likely to improve their lot. He observes that there have been innovations before, yet humanity goes on with just about the same mix of good and bad as always. Unfortunately, Qoheleth never encountered Christ. If he had, he should have discovered the one exception to his rule. Jesus is one person whose memory the ages cannot erase. Indeed, his revelation – what he calls “new wine for new wineskins” – brings humanity the realization of a completely new possibility.

Although to some it may seem narrow-minded and self-serving, we Christians, like Qoheleth, hold that after Christ the windows of revelation have been fused shut. True, we keep on discovering new implications of Christ’s teaching, but we deny the possibility of a new wisdom that will bring us closer to the divine. We find it peculiar how some embrace New Age rites or even ancient world religions. No doubt, there are aspects in these approaches to life that would be profitable to know. But for the most part we will find them elements of Christian belief that have been neglected over the years.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 9:1-6)

As a training exercise, a group of Peace Corps Volunteers were once left individually in villages not far from their training center around noon on Sunday. The volunteers were provided with little more than carfare back to the center. When the volunteers regrouped that evening, most of them told stories of gracious hospitality. In almost every case villagers invited them into their homes for dinner and a few even drove the volunteers back to the training center.

In today’s gospel Jesus’ apostles are sent out in a not too dissimilar way. They, however, are not to bring anything with them “just in case.” Rather, they are to depend completely on Providence working through the townspeople they encounter. Of course, they will offer to the people release from demons, cures of diseases, and the good news of God’s kingdom, but these blessings are not meant as ways to finagle hospitality or to reward it. Rather, they represent God’s favor upon those who accept His grace. Indeed, Jesus indicates that some villagers will likely shut their doors in his apostles’ faces.

The dependency of the apostles upon Providence thrills our consciences like a bugle call. Today in our society most people, including church workers, strive to avert risks. The credit card has long served as a way never to be caught without money. With cellular telephones in emergencies help is only a few pushed buttons away. Other resources like generous insurance policies protect against catastrophic situations. Although these privileges are often defended as prudential, they may leave us with the question: What does it mean today to trust in God’s Providence if we avoid all risks?

Homilette for Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest

(Luke 8:19-21)

We still tell the parents of a bride and groom that they are not losing a child but gaining one. In the gospel today Jesus indicates that his mother is not losing a son but gaining a host of children.

At first reading, it may appear that Jesus is distancing himself from Mary. He says rather brusquely that his mother and brother “are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” But recalling the beginning of Luke’s gospel, we remember how Mary is the first to do just that. She willingly accepts the angel’s message that she is to be the mother of the Savior. Likewise, she makes haste to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth when the angel mentions the latter’s miraculous pregnancy.

Still the thrust of this passage is not so much Mary’s being named the mother of Jesus as we being designated his brothers and sisters. We should note that the relationship is not attributed to everyone. No, to qualify as a member of Jesus’ family we must, like Mary, listen to the word of God with our hearts and act on it with our lives.

Homilette for Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 8:16-18)

In the 1950s and 1960s civil rights activists sang, “This little light of mine of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” They saw themselves as small beams of light in the ongoing struggle with the darkness of racial bigotry and prejudice. The song, written in the early part of the last century, recalls Jesus’ words of the gospel today.

Jesus wants his disciples to understand that they were chosen to reflect the light of God’s grace. Christianity is not a private religion in the sense that Jesus’ followers might pray on Sunday and be indifferent to their neighbors on Monday. Quite the contrary, Christian prayer must lead to exemplary behavior.

There is a story about a Quaker prayer meeting once attended by a non-member. As their habit, the Quakers were sitting in quiet meditation which discomforted the guest. The guest turned to the Quaker sitting at his side and whispered, “When does the service begin?” The Quaker responded, “The service begins as soon as the prayer ends!”

Homilette for Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 8:1-3)

A famous painting by the French master Georges de La Tour hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It shows a loosely-clad woman sitting in front of a looking glass in meditative stupor. She is fingering a skull, which sits in front of, and almost blocks from view, a burning candle. “What’s the point of it all?” she seems to ask herself as she contemplates life and death, herself and Christ, the light.

The painting is called “The Repentant Magdalene” which is probably a misnomer. That title reflects a popular but unfounded belief that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute. Preachers through the ages have concluded that Mary Magdalene, mentioned for the first time in Luke’s gospel today, is “the sinful woman” who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears of yesterday’s gospel passage. But today’s gospel only identifies her as the woman “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Demon possession in the New Testament is associated with sickness and hysteria, not moral depravity. Mary Magdalene’s relation to the woman of the previous chapter is likely one of inclusion. The evangelist Luke includes the story of the women accompanying Jesus following that of “the sinful woman” to indicate how Jesus attracted different kinds of women as well as men to himself.

But certainly the questions that La Tour’s Magdalene seems to ask are likewise inclusive of all humanity as well. What’s the point of it all? Is our destiny just dry bones that will whither completely in time? Or is Jesus the fire who enlightens our minds today and will empower our resurrection from the dead tomorrow? We Christians know the answers to these questions. Our task is to live their implications in our everyday lives.

Homilette for Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 7:36-50)

We may think of Jesus as unfriendly toward all Pharisees, but this is not the case. True, he does chastise some, but he also eats with others. He really has a lot in common with Pharisees. Like them Jesus is a layman and learned in the Law. Also like the Pharisees Jesus teaches in synagogues and exerts every effort to live righteously. Nothing should seem peculiar, therefore, in Jesus’ entering a Pharisee’s home in the gospel today.

Simon, the Pharisee, becomes scandalized when Jesus allows a notoriously sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Although he is too proper to say it out loud, Simon sees Jesus’ indulgence as evidence that he is not a true prophet. A prophet, he thinks, would see into a person’s heart to know whether she or he is worthy. But Jesus shows Simon to be dead wrong with the very criterion that Simon gives of a true prophet. First, he knows the woman’s heart to be repentant and thus receptive of God’s grace. Second, he reads the hypocrisy of Simon’s heart that criticizes too much and loves too little.

Jesus demonstrates God’s mercy as he forgives the woman her sins and enlightens Simon of his. Mercy at times requires fraternal correction as Jesus calls Simon to task for hypocrisy. It also will allow a humble person to express her love as Jesus permits the reformed woman to bathe his feet. We can pray with ever more hope that Jesus will treat us as graciously as he does these two sinners. As church-goers, we are susceptible to the sin of hypocrisy. When we criticize others unjustly, may Christ remind us of the sin that we commit. Then, may he offer us opportunities to show our love for him.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 12:31-13:13)

A preacher once remarked about the difficulty in preaching about love. He said something like, “The only place we are sure that we know what we are talking about when we talk about ‘love’ is in tennis. And there ‘love’ means ‘nothing at all.’” We might notice how St. Paul suggests the difficulty in speaking about love by not attempting to define it in his famous “hymn to love” that comprises the first reading today. Rather he gives a phenomenological description telling us first the importance of love, then its similarities and dissimilarities, and finally its uniqueness. Let’s examine each of these issues.

St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that charity or “love of friendship” animates all the other virtues. This means what Paul illustrates in the text. Eloquence and foresight, even faith and generosity will come to nothing if love does not shape their ends. We might say with Sartre that human life is a useless passion, if love did not provide it a transcendent purpose.

We get a glimpse of love’s nature by noting how caring it is of the other person. Love not only concerns itself with the other’s needs (“patient” and “kind”) but also avoids causing the other distress (“not inflated,” “not rude,” etc.). Joseph Pieper defines love as affirmation of another so that one can say, “It’s good that you exist!” This may sound like a weak-kneed definition, but it is meant to be comprehensive and inclusive like Paul with his lists of positive and negative adjectives for love.

Paul never equates God with love like the First Letter of John, but he seems on the verge of this conclusion when he writes that of the three enduring virtues, love is the greatest. Evidently, even in the Beatific Vision there will be need of faith, probably because God is an incomprehensible mystery, always beyond our understanding. We may wonder about the need for hope if in everlasting life the human person has fulfilled her or his goal. In any case, love is certainly the greatest theological virtue because it alone participates in God’s supreme activity.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr

(Luke 7:11-17)

Compassion for the suffering defines part of our humanity. An old proverb tells us, “The young man who will not laugh is a barbarian; the old man who cannot cry is a fool.” We feel for and perhaps cry with people undergoing suffering perhaps because we can see ourselves in such a predicament or because someone dear to us has experienced a similar trial.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells his disciples to be compassionate just as God is compassionate. In the passage today he demonstrates both human and divine compassion. Encountering the heart-rending scene of a widow burying her only son, Jesus first offers her a few words of comfort. Then he raises her son back to life. He not only shows compassion but fulfills the good news he proclaimed earlier, “Blessed are you who are weeping now, for you will laugh.”

Compassion propels us to act. We cannot raise people from the dead as Jesus does in the gospel, but we can utter words of consolation. We might also extend a helping hand if there is need of assistance. The word compassion comes from two Latin words meaning “to suffer with.” But the “passion” part of compassion also indicates a burning desire to see suffering relieved and evil overturned.

Homilette for Monday, September 15, 2008

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(John 19:25-27)

It is tempting to hear these nearly final words of Jesus as an only son’s concern for his widowed mother after he dies. However, the context calls for a different and perhaps richer interpretation. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus does not look back to his childhood family but beyond to his divine one. Here we can see him giving his mother to his beloved disciple and his beloved disciple to his mother so that they too might be part of God’s eternal family. Their coming together will initiate the community called Church as they become adopted children of God and heirs of places in the heavenly household. When Jesus expires, John says that he “hand(s) over his spirit.” We may consider his mother and beloved disciple as the recipients of that spirit springing the Church into existence.

Yet Mary is still “the Mother of Sorrows.” Artists never depict this moment of church formation as a happy one. Rather they show Mary with tears in her eyes and, sometimes, John too distressed to show his face. It is not that they, or we in similar moments of loss, are too much part of the world to feel satisfaction. Rather, they have both loved Jesus so long and well that being deprived of his presence breaks their hearts. Nevertheless, Mary and the beloved disciple provide us with a lesson about love. Worthy human love always makes us want to be with the object of our love. Such love (eros in Greek) grows into divine love (agape in Greek or caritas in Latin) when God’s grace enables us to let go of the beloved knowing that He will reunite him or her to us forever.

Homilette for Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 9:16-19; 22b-27)

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 9:16-19; 22b-27)

Last month the eyes of the world were riveted on Michael Phelps. The American swimmer was attempting to win an unprecedented eight gold medals in one Olympic season. Few people considered Phelps’ competitors – how they might enjoy receiving Olympic gold. No, they were hoping to see a champion of champions emerge in those games.

In the reading from the first letter to the Corinthians today Paul challenges us to compete like Michael Phelps. But, he implies, the prize that we aim at is not lustrous gold which often carries with it soul-destroying pride. Quite the contrary, the award we seek is invisible to the eye but edifying of the soul. We work for everlasting life with God and achieve it by dedicating ourselves to Him.

Make no mistake about it; our quest for sanctity is as daunting as Michael Phelps’ pursuit of gold medals. We must discipline our bodies to overcome the desires of the flesh and our minds to keep focused on our heavenly prize. As Phelps spent multiple hours daily at swimming practice, we must pray for God’s assistance and take advantage of opportunities to do good. The difference between Phelps’ shooting for Olympic gold and our seeking everlasting life is that in our case no extraordinary natural disposition is necessary to gain the goal we seek. Every one of us can become a saint with God’s grace.

Homilette for Thursday. September 11, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 6:27-38)

When is a victim not a victim? The answer is when the victim takes control of the situation. “Victim” comes from the Latin word victima meaning a creature used in a sacrifice. Sacrificial objects are usually unknowing and passive. They neither resist nor collaborate in the sacrifice. The gospel passage today recommends that Christians not act like victims when we are called to suffering. No, we are to take the initiative in an extraordinary way.

Jesus strings together a series of responses to injury under the rubric: love your enemies. Christians are to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. We also turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, offer our shirt when they take our coat, and give to others without demanding repayment. Jesus also tells us why we want to treat our enemies so benignly. By our love for all, we show ourselves to be true children of God who will provide us an eternal reward.

In the last few years a number of Catholic Christians in Rwanda have demonstrated that fulfilling Jesus’ mandate in this passage is possible. In the genocide of 1994 killers took the lives of half a million people. In 2001 an archbishop started a process of truth-telling, public confession and requests for forgiveness in the midst of a widespread study of Scripture. One man has forgiven eight people who confessed to taking part in the killing of sixty-five of his relatives!

Homilette for Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 6:20-26)

In the gospel today Jesus almost sounds like a Fidel Castro delivering a harangue on economic justice. Some might want to press the mute button for the duration of his sermon. But he is the Lord and definitely has something to say to us that will transcend the speech of political messiahs.

On one hand Jesus addresses those experiencing serious economic deprivation. He is talking to the poor who barely survive and to the mourning who continually experience loss. But he does not mean all the poor, all the hungry, all the weeping, and all the insulted. No, he specifically addresses his disciples -- both then and now -- who follow him on a road that entails hardships. As Jesus’ disciples, there no way to insulate ourselves from deprivation. Every follower must pay, what one theologian, named "the cost of discipleship."

Of course, Jesus does not limit his address to the have-nots but pronounces some choice words to the haves as well. Their future is bleak, he tells them, if they do not use what they have for the good of all. Jesus is not condemning the rich, the sated, the joyful, and the well-spoken of per se but only when they reserve for their exclusive use everything they have. His lesson is similar to that of the legend of King Midas. The god Dionysius gave Midas the choice of anything he wanted. The king foolishly chose to have everything he touched turn into gold. He came to lament his choice, however, when he found that he could not enjoy anything. All the food he tasted, the comforts he felt, even the friends at his side turned into the cold, durable metal.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Memorial of St. Peter Claver, priest

(I Corinthians 6:1-11)

Paul’s list of wrongdoers in the first reading today is revealing. Most of the sinners transgress the boundaries of passion. Talk of the “sexual revolution” almost makes it seem that sexual sins were invented toward the end of the last century. The New Testament, however, underscores the prevalence of sins of the flesh down through the ages. In fact, we should note how Jesus as well as Paul emphasizes the power of God to spare humans the dismal consequences of illicit sexual gratification.

We might also take note of how Paul writes of “sodomites,” not “homosexuals.” The two are not co-terminus as not every homosexual engages in sexual activity. The necessary distinction reminds us that being homosexual is not immoral and that homosexuals deserve the same respect as any other person. In fact, in the present age of sexual license homosexual adults living chastely may deserve admiration.

Most noteworthy about the passage, however, is the primacy of communal conflict on Paul’s list of vices. Christians are not to fight publicly with one another since open conflict undermines the reputation of the Church as well as its unity. Disagreements will erupt in any human organization, but they are to be resolved amicably. Paul’s emphasis on unity indicates the social nature of sin. When Christians sin, they not only offend God but also one another. The Church has a mission to be a light to the world. Sin dims that light so that non-Christians may not know Christ.

Homilette for Monday, September 8, 2008

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Once, a woman about to complete her sixty-fourth year said that she did not want to celebrate her birthday. “Why?” we might have asked. She would have answered that she did not want to grow older. Although the woman is really a fine person, she still exhibits a little vanity. She sees growing old as a fault of which there is no need to remember, much less to remind others.

The root difficulty is that many think a birthday is all about the person who was born on that day. Sure, we focus on the person by bringing gifts and greetings that suggest her or his significance. But a birthday has a grander purpose. It makes room for recognition of all the blessings bestowed on the focus person. It calls to celebration the person’s family and friends who helped make the person what she or he is. Most of all, a birthday gives the person special opportunity to thank God for the gift of life. An elderly person, therefore, should celebrate all the more since she or he has accumulated many reasons to thank God.

Today we celebrate the Birth of Mary. She would be the first to deflect attention from herself to others. In Luke’s gospel, after her kinswoman Elizabeth calls her “blessed,” Mary acknowledges to whom praise is really due. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...” she says in perfect candor. As participants in Mary’s celebration today we both thank God for accomplishing our salvation through Mary’s motherhood and thank Mary for accepting God’s grace so selflessly.

Homilette for Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 4:1-5)

The Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter once observed that one servant is worth a thousand gadgets. Blackberries, I-Pods, and electric massagers may enhance satisfaction, but they hardly replace a loyal, competent servant. In the reading from I Corinthians today, Paul shares some insights into the Lord’s service.

The “us” to whom Paul refers as Christ’s servants is not meant to be all Christians, but those like himself who minister to the community. In Paul’s mind ministers directly serve Christ, not the people. This means that they take orders from the Lord and not from the faithful among whom they work. Of course, by not subjecting himself or herself to human authority, the minister risks becoming arrogant and autocratic. Paul, however, finds a safeguard in the criterion of trustworthiness. A true servant of Christ will prove himself or herself faultless in conduct and reliable in the execution of duty.

When servants of Christ fail the test – be it through extramarital sex, misappropriation of funds, or child abuse -- they give scandal to church members and, indeed, the world. They also will incur a stricter judgment than others from Christ when he comes in glory. In the passage today Paul seems to imply (but he can hardly mean) that the faithful are to look the other way when they see serious wrong-doing by their ministers. However, he certainly does intend that church members refrain from groundless criticism regarding Christ's servants.

Homilette for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 5:1-11)

Pope John Paul II made a mighty impression on Washington Post reporter Haynes Johnson during the papal visit in 1979. Although the newsman had covered events and personalities for decades, Johnson was swept away by the pope’s energy, message, and sense of mission. A confirmed Protestant, he simply stood in awe of the Catholic hierarch.

In the gospel today Peter shows an even great wonder for Jesus than Haynes Johnson’s for Pope John Paul. When he sees the tremendous catch of fish made at Jesus’ command, Peter prostrates before him. A commentator notes how Peter does not respond to Jesus as a fisherman saying, “’Why didn’t I know where the fish were?’” but as a human being before one whom he recognizes as Lord. Like the prophet Isaiah at his call or like any one human experiencing the holy, Peter must confess his unworthiness.

In our attempt to understand Jesus as human, we often miss the fundamental insight of the apostles and the gospels. Jesus certainly was subject to human limitations, but his co-existing divine nature enabled him to stand out as Lord of the universe. Only as such does following him today make sense. The gospel states that Peter and company “left everything and followed him.” We have to at least leave behind our wanton desires in our following.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Luke 4:38-44)

When Jesus retreats to a deserted place, we may conclude that he is going there to pray. However, the evangelist Luke has a different scenario in mind. The devil tempted Jesus in a desert place earlier in the gospel. Here the people come to tempt him again.

Jesus has successfully met the people’s needs. He spoke with an authority that left them astonished. He also cast out their maddening demons and cured their various types of diseases. Who wouldn’t want such a prophet to stay among them? The gospel does not mention how the people try to prevent Jesus from leaving them, but we can imagine them making offers difficult to refuse. They may tempt him with a life-tenure as rabbi of their synagogue. Or perhaps they propose the hand in marriage of the beautiful daughter of the town’s richest merchant! These kinds of deals would at least interest many of us.

But Jesus knows that he is no local teacher. No, he has come to tell the world about the Kingdom of God, indeed to inaugurate it with words, deeds, and ultimately with his life. He is not to be deterred by temptations of power, pleasure, or prestige. Jesus presents us here with an example and an assurance. We must know what we are about as Christians in the world and not let ourselves be led astray by temptations. There should be very little, if any at all, of following one’s fancy among us. Equally helpful, Jesus assures us that he has come to save us and will not allow anything to stop that from happening.