Homilette for Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 1:1-11)

Paul’s opening sentence in the Letter to the Philippians has given pause for reflection. He addresses the letter to “all the holy ones in Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” We wonder, “Is it not odd that there would be bishops in a church as small as the one in Philippi? And what might these deacons do?” The situation provokes further interest because in his Letter to the Romans, Paul describes Phoebe, a woman, as having the same diaconal function. Are some of the deacons in Philippi then women?

It is possible that Paul has women in mind when he writes. However, this does not mean that women were ordained deacons in the early church as we ordain men to the permanent diaconate today. When Paul writes “deacon,” he may intend what we think of as a minister. Almost certainly he is not addressing multiple bishops as we consider the term but rather people with responsibility for overseeing the welfare of the community. Paul is writing before the time when both bishop and deacon had the theological meaning that they carry today.

The Church has never definitively ruled out ordaining women to the diaconate. The matter demands further study of Scripture passages like the one we read today. However, even if making women deacons never happens, women still perform valuable ministry. In a short story titled “The Deacon” Mary Gordon describes a woman religious performing all kinds of services in a busy, urban parish. The tale reflects the experience that we see all the time. The Church simply could not function without the ministry of women.

Homilette for Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13:31-35)

A frustrated Illinois state official named James Shields once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln had criticized Shields in a local newspaper, and the latter felt he had to defend his honor. Having the right to choose the dueling weapons, Lincoln called for cavalry swords thinking he might intimidate his diminutive opponent before the duel began. Besides, Lincoln knew that there was less possibility of either being killed with sabers than with pistols. The strategy worked. When Shields realized that he had little chance of prevailing over the six foot four inch Lincoln, he accepted the future president’s explanation that the criticism was never meant to defame the state official’s character.

In today’s gospel Jesus is challenged to a duel of sorts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. No doubt Herod resents Jesus because he, like John the Baptist, preaches repentance and reform. We can easily imagine that Jesus would like to confront Herod. John was Jesus’ kinsman and probable mentor whom Herod has murdered with impunity. Evidently Jesus does not fear Herod since he mentions that he will accomplish his purpose. But, unlike Lincoln, he does not allow himself to be embroiled in a duel. His rule is always to do his Father’s will and not his own. Jesus knows that God is leading him away from Herod’s territory to Jerusalem where he will give his life for the world’s salvation.

Abraham Lincoln shows us how to use our wits to save face and perhaps life when challenged. But Jesus gives a more valuable lesson. He exemplifies subservience to God’s will as we face life’s challenges. No matter how great our desire to react, no matter how much of our ego or self-image is on line, we must follow the Lord’s, not our own, will. More than that even, Jesus’ action in this passage points to God’s love for us. He leads His son into the hands of his worse enemies so that we might inherit eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13: 22-30)

Pupils in Catholic schools used to ask many questions of religion teachers to both satisfy curiosity and to waste time. A typical question was, “Sister, if you were killed walking to church for confession, would you go to hell?” The sisters, who knew how to play the game as well, often answered, “What do you think?” In the gospel today we meet Jesus responding as nimbly as the sisters to a tough question.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone in the crowd asks Jesus. Perhaps the Pharisees trained the questioner to think that most people are lazy, no-good hell-bounds. People today, aware of God’s mercy, are more inclined to ask a question to the opposite effect, “Doesn’t God save everyone?” Although we may try to practice the faith, all of us have loved ones who ignore the commandments. “God surely cannot just condemn them to hell, can He?” we wonder.

Jesus adroitly sidesteps the issue. Whom the Father will save or damn is up to Him to decide. Yet Jesus seizes the opportunity to create a proverb. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” he advises. He means that we must discipline ourselves to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. There is scant place among his followers for slouches who say, “A peek at pornography or a little lie won’t hurt anyone.” Nor are we truly Christian if we ignore those in need.

Some of us may think that perfect attendance at Sunday mass might win us salvation. Not so, Jesus makes clear when he says, “And you will say, `We ate and drank in your company...’ Then he will say to you, `...Depart from me, all your evil doers!’” No, Jesus expects mass to serve as a kind of launching pad where we receive fuel and direction for a life of virtue.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

(Luke 6:12-16)

The list of apostles that we read in the gospel passage today is one of four in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark and Luke each has a list as does the Acts of the Apostles which was also written by St. Luke. Each of the lists have three groups of four apostles starting with the most illustrious – St. Peter and ending with the most ignoble, Judas Iscariot. Mentioned with Peter in the first group are always James, John and Andrew. These apostles play prominent roles in the gospels. In the second foursome are lesser known, but not obscure apostles. They include Thomas, Philip, and Bartholomew. The last foursome contains the least known apostles except for Judas Iscariot, who was not so much famous as infamous.

St. Simon and St. Jude, whom we honor today, are among these least known apostles. In the lists of Matthew and Mark Jude does not even appear but is replaced by Thaddeus. Through the ages some people have thought that they must have been the same person with either two names or a first and last name – Jude Thaddeus. But it is more likely that Jude and Thaddeus were different men who were remembered by the different informers of Mark and Luke. (Matthew seems to have more or less copied Mark’s list). All this is to say that Jude does not figure prominently among the apostles. True, in the Gospel according to John, a disciple named Jude asks Jesus a question at the Last Supper, but that’s it! The apostle Jude’s name appears in the two lists recorded by Luke and as the one-time questioner in John.

Although he is virtually unknown in the gospels, St. Jude probably has the greatest following of all the apostles today. “Why?” we may wonder. The reason is not difficult to comprehend. Many people sense that they are of little significance and look to Jude the apostle, whose name is not given much significance, as their link to Jesus. It is he, the Lord, who gives us all the significance that is worth having – the grace of God or, in other words, eternal life.

Homilette for Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13:10-17)

The way we talk about each of the four evangelists may make some think that we know well who they were. However, we actually have little hard evidence about any gospel writer. None of them puts his (or, who really knows, her) name on the work. We depend on secondary sources writing decades later to identify these writers. The author of the third gospel is no exception. Although this gospel begins with a personal anecdote, only second century witnesses tell us that he is Luke, whom the Letter to the Colossians calls the “beloved physician.”

It is interesting to note that Luke can be critical of physicians but is harder on lawyers. Earlier in the gospel Luke tells of another woman with a debilitating hemorrhage whom Jesus heals. Unlike Mark writing of the same incident, Luke does not mention (at least as recorded in some ancient manuscripts) that the woman spent a small fortune on doctors. More significantly, Luke presents Jesus as the original “beloved physician” of body and soul. In the passage today Jesus gently removes the burden that has had a woman bent over for eighteen years. Not gently, but equally remarkably, he opens the eyes of the synagogue official, a lawyer of sorts quoting the law. Jesus explains to him the fact that his interpretation of the Law is punitive not life-giving.

Homilette for Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:54-59)

Everyone has heard of climate change. For the last thirty years the average temperatures around the world have increased significantly. Meteorologists have linked these increases to fiercer tropical storms and longer draughts. The temperature increases certainly have brought about the melting of the polar ice caps altering the habitats and habits of arctic animals and arctic humans.

What would Jesus say about climate change if he were here in flesh and blood? He perhaps would comment as he does in the gospel reading today. He would observe how we are proficient observers of the weather but blind to our faults. He would urge us to consider seriously our sins and to change our ways. He would warn us that if we refuse to seek God’s forgiveness now, it will soon be too late.

When Jesus mentions the case of an opponent turning a person over to a magistrate, he means that unless we make amends with God now, God will turn us over to Jesus who is to judge the world at the end of time. By all means, Jesus will be a fair, even a merciful judge. However, unless we change directions now, we are likely to become so puffed up by self-righteousness that we will not think to ask Jesus for clemency.

Homilette for Thursday, October 23, 2007

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:49-53)

The specter of nuclear holocaust may induce some to think that Jesus’ words in the gospel today are soon to be fulfilled. But, of course, annihilation is not what Jesus has in mind when he says that he comes “to set the earth on fire.” Likewise, Jesus should not be taken literally when he denies the mission of bringing peace to the world. Jesus remains the Prince of Peace whom Zachariah prophesied as guiding the people into “the path of peace.”

The fire that Jesus kindles is actually the desire in our hearts to be morally good. Touched by his Spirit, we are no longer content with sexual gratification, monetary reward, and the obeisance of others. Instead, we seek to be like God Himself who bends down to lift up the lowly. The division that Jesus foretells is not so much the fractioning of households into those who are for and against him but the struggle that goes on with ourselves to do what is right.

Taking up the campaign to be good like God, we begin to see how Jesus really does bring peace. Passionate desire for another gives way to harmonious co-existence with him or her. Seeking virtue becomes our objective at every turn. We can even extend an olive branch to family members who alienate themselves from us in our pursuit of righteousness. We come to recognize the fire that Jesus has set in the world is actually a flame of love purifying us so that we might enjoy eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:39-48)

St. Augustine used to tell his people that being a bishop frightened him. The fear flowed from the responsibility he had to guide his diocese. He knew that God would judge him harshly if he failed to discharge his duties or if he used the episcopacy for his own gain. It goes without saying that Augustine took note of the gospel passage we read today.

In the passage today Jesus warns his apostles that they are susceptible to a stricter judgment than others. Because he has taught them himself, they can have no excuse for abusing their authority. The bishops today are the successors of those apostles with the same responsibility of guiding the Church. Priests do not share the fullness of the apostolic mandate, but they are likewise well tutored in the gospels. Both bishops and priests can expect stiff punishment if they fail to give judicious pastoral care.

Sometimes in hearing the Eucharistic Prayer we may wonder why the clergy are given special mention. Cynics might say that the reason lies in the fact that bishops and priests composed the prayers that they read. If this were the case, the clergy would be pitifully betraying the gospel they preach. No, surely it is charity that moves us to pray for bishops, priests, and deacons. They bear grave responsibility which they may fail to handle well leaving everyone in jeopardy.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:12-22)

It is said that Jesus enjoyed eating and drinking so much that he chose to spend his last hours with his disciples doing just that. We must not trivialize the meaning of the Last Supper by talking of it as a “going-away party” among friends. It was that and much more. Jesus used it as the occasion to symbolize all that he did in the world. He transformed a meal – in this case the traditional Passover Supper – into the way he would be remembered forever. The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians today summarizes what that meal, which we know as the first Eucharist, means.

The Letter calls Jesus “our peace ... who broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh.” Jesus becomes our peace at the Eucharist not primarily because we begin mass with the penitential rite, but because in the mass we re-member or reconstitute Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. He gives his flesh and blood to reconcile us to God and to one another. It is the latter peace that the Letter to the Ephesians underscores here, but it is only through reconciliation with God that our reconciliation with one another can take place. As the Second Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation puts it: “You gave him up to death so that we might turn again to you and find our way to one another.”

Homilette for Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:13-21)

Go into the houses of most people today, and you are likely to see a lot of stuff. We live in an age of mass production when manufactured goods multiply like leaves on a maple tree. The gospel today serves as a warning about over-concern with material wealth, with stuff. It proposes, instead, that we should store up treasure in heaven.

The farmer in Jesus’ story is an insufferable egotist. As one commentator puts it, “He talks to himself; he plans for himself; he congratulates himself.” But is he really so different from many of us? Too often people think only of themselves. They even plan and nurture children to fit their narcissistic designs. The barns which the farmer builds to store grain for the future serve the same purposes as savings portfolios today. The portfolios do not necessarily make people bad; they make them rich. When pursued single-mindedly, they also will prove to be self-defeating. As Jesus would say, the portfolios make them fools.

Of course, Jesus would not condemn prudent people with retirement plans and savings for emergencies. But he would condemn non-attention to those without resources to meet critical human needs. Before we spend all that we have on more stuff or invest all non-spent income for tomorrow, we must assist those who are struggling to live with decency. Ironically, this kind of concern proves to be the best plan for the future. Jesus makes clear throughout the gospel that sharing with the poor deposits a treasure where it counts most.

Homilette for Friday, October 17, 2008

(I have begun publishing these reflections on mass readings by 12 noon on the day prior to that on which the passages are read at mass. If, however, many prefer that I publish them earlier, I can return to doing it two days before. If the day of publication is a concern to you, please contact me at cmeleop@yahoo.com.)

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Luke 12:1-7)

On his visit to the United States earlier this year, Pope Benedict warned American bishops about privacy in religion. He said, “To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair it loses its very soul.” The pope only echoed what Jesus tells us in the gospel today. We are to be especially wary of hypocrisy; that is, our public and private lives need to correspond with each other.

Pope Benedict’s remarks on privacy probably had much to do with some Catholic public officials’ refusal to work for outlawing abortion. The officials claim that such an endeavor would be imposing their private beliefs on the general public. One commentator traces the source of this thinking to John Kennedy’s campaign for President in 1960. The candidate told the ministerial association of Houston that a President’s religion should be a private affair.

There are senses in which a public servant’s religion may remain private. Most American Catholics would grimace if they saw a Catholic President wearing a rosary around her or his neck. Likewise, very few would want any public servant showing exclusive favor to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we do not want our Catholic officials to shy away from being seen attending Sunday mass. We are even more concerned that they follow their faith-formed consciences regarding public morality.

Homilette for Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 1:1-10)

For a long time the Western Hemisphere dated historical events in reference to the birth of Jesus. Occurrences that took place before his birth were dated as so many years “B.C.” or before Christ. For example, Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Occurrences after Christ’s birth were designated as so many years “A.D.” or Anno Domini, that is, in the year of the Lord. The system of dating follows the assertion made in today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians. The passage states that in the fullness of times God summed up all things in Christ. He, then, is the center of history.

In deference to people of other faiths many scholars today prefer to use “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” signifying before the common era and in the common era. This may sound traitorous to Christian ears believing what we do about Jesus’ divinity. But the new designation no doubt promotes harmony with non-Christians and shows Christian goodwill.

Nevertheless, in Church documents and among the Christian community “B.C.” and A.D.” should give us pause to marvel at what God has accomplished in Christ. As the Letter to the Ephesians reads, God has overcome human depravity with His grace. We no longer are slaves to our passions but children of God doing every kind of good work. Being aware of this enormous benefit is not the same as accepting it. But how could anyone with an inkling of what it all means not want it for herself or himself?

Homilette for Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Luke 11:42-46)

In the gospels Jesus seems to have a running battle with Pharisees. But we should not think that Pharisees are necessarily his enemies. As he has done before and will do again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus in today’s passage is dining at the home of a Pharisee. Obviously, Jesus has some differences of outlook, but he also holds much in common with Pharisees. We may profitably suppose that some of the harsh criticism in the gospels is not so much Jesus’ for the Pharisees of his time but the evangelists’ for Pharisee-like Christians a generation later.

Catholics today, perhaps like some Pharisees of Jesus’ time and Christians of the first century, sometimes pay too much attention to details and too little to the gospel message. Some go to church checking to see if the flowers by the altar are freshly cut or artificial. (In order to prevent cheap imitations Church rubrics have called for fresh flowers by the altar.) Others might gossip about the profanities used by their pastor without realizing that they might be committing a graver sin of detraction.

In today’s gospel Jesus compares the nit-picking Pharisees to “unseen graves.” He means to say that they are already dead because they do not accept the love of God which brings life. St. Teresa of Avila, less somberly but with the same impatience, once prayed, “God save us from sad-faced saints.” Both she and Jesus realize that righteous living is not so much frowning on other people’s sins as turning to God in thanksgiving for our blessings and praying for those in special need of help.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:1-6)

Two words in the first reading today beg clarification. First, Paul tells the Galatians (and us) that Christ has set them free. He means that Christ has freed humans from the onus of the Law as a way to please God. The Law never worked very well in the first place like kerosene lamps for reading. But Paul does not mean that humans can do whatever they wish now that the Jewish Law has been abolished. Rather, he says, it is for freedom that Christ has freed them. Here freedom refers to the life of the Spirit residing within. Without the Spirit freed people are no better off than the illiterates in a library. With the Holy Spirit they live exemplary lives that bring joy to neighbors and truly please God.

The second word that needs pondering is faith. Martin Luther stressed the idea that faith alone brings salvation. But did he mean an abstract faith which gives only verbal assent to the truth of Christ’s resurrection? That is not what Paul concludes as he extols “faith working through love.” Without love faith withers like flowers cut off from their water source. Indeed, love in a sense is the object of our faith. We are not speaking of human love here, but the divine kind which has rescued humans from the darkness of absolute zero for no benefit to itself.

Homilette for Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 11:29-32)

A story is told about a rabbi who walks through the woods and is accosted by a robber. “Give me the most precious thing you carry,” the thug demands. The rabbi thinks for a moment, then reaches into his bag and pulls out a huge diamond as big as a grapefruit. The robber takes the diamond and flees. Later the same day, however, he returns to the rabbi. He now orders the rabbi, “You better hand over to me the treasure that you have that made giving up the diamond so easy.”

Just as there is no satisfying the robber, there is no pacifying the people in the gospel passage who demand a sign from Jesus. Any further cure or exorcism that he performs would only create the desire to see additional works of wonder. There will never be enough evidence for them to believe that he comes from God because that takes a humble act of faith. That is, they will have to repent of all false desire and begin living God’s justice.

How about us? If you are like me, we both think that we are living pretty good lives. We might give ourselves a “B+” or an “A-” for conduct. But we know that we would do better if we felt absolutely certain that God is in our midst. We too must consider that the Queen of the South and the people of Nineveh may condemn us as well those gathered to hear Jesus in the gospel. After all, God comes to us in word and sacrament in this very Eucharist, and still we only make a ninety percent effort.

Homilette for Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 11:15-26)

Every election cycle candidates court the people’s favor by distributing T-shirts and, if they are incumbents, putting “sweeteners” in legislation. Like the crowd in the gospel wondering if Jesus casts out demons because he is in league with Beelzebub, the voters should question such freebies.

Jesus knows the thoughts of the people and tries to calm their anxieties. First, he uses logic. Beelzebub would be working against himself, he says, if he cast out demons. It would as foolish as cutting off your nose to spite your face. Then Jesus makes a comparison. He casts out demons no differently than local healers. If they suspect him, should they not also question the motives of the village exorcist? Finally, Jesus proposes a challenge. They might accept his marvelous deeds as a sign that the Kingdom of God has finally come. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!” he seems to tell them.

But Jesus does not avoid the fact that the coming of the Kingdom will entail effort on the part of its beneficiaries. People have to convert to its standards of intellectual honesty, moral integrity, and love for all. If not, the vacuum created by the removal of the evil spirit will invite an even more precarious situation. We might think of a household that has exterminated all the mice that inhabited it. Unless protections and safeguards against pests are put in place quickly, mice and perhaps rats are likely to come in force.

Homilette for Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:1-5)

Paul’s frontal against the Galatians – “O stupid Galatians, who has bewitched you?” – makes us wonder what kind of people would tolerate such criticism. Most likely Paul is addressing a community of Christians he founded in the northern part of the province of Galatia. The fair-haired and light complexioned inhabitants of that area migrated in the third century before Christ from the region of the Pyrenees separationg what is presently France and Spain. “Galatians” comes from the same root as the Latin word Gallia which refers to the expansive tract of Western Europe that includes modern France.

In Paul’s day Galatians were considered something like the Brobdingnagians of Jonathan Swift’s famous novel Gulliver’s Travels. One author describes them: “large, unpredictable simpletons, instinctively generous, ferocious and highly dangerous when angry, but without stamina and easy to trick.” Paul evidently considered them good-hearted enough to accept his sharp disapproval without rejecting his message. He probably had developed a deep rapport with them when ill health caused him to stay with them for a protracted amount of time.

Paul’s language, however, reveals more about himself than about the Galatians. For Paul the single, most important fact of life was God’s redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ. For some mysterious reason Christ had commissioned him to preach this truth to non-Jews. He did not mean to subjugate anyone but only to express his love for his hearers as Christ showed his love for all by his death on the cross. If strong language was necessary for a people to accept redemption, he would use it. If refined rhetoric would do the job, he would argue with great sophistication. As he himself would write to the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all, so that I might save at least some” (I Cor 9:22).

Homilette for Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 11:1-4)

With Halloween approaching we might want to reflect on the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed be your name.” The word Halloween comes from a form of hallowed. It is actually short for all hallows even, or the eve of all saints. American Catholics have a sense of this meaning since we are obligated to attend mass the next day, the Feast of All Saints.

Obviously then, “hallowed” is connected with sanctity. Indeed, it is an ancient way of saying “holy.” When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we express our wish that God’s name be reverenced throughout the world. Here a name is more than a way to call something or somebody; rather, it means one’s fame or reputation. We can look at two famous Shakespearean quotes to appreciate the difference. In Romeo and Juliet the heroine downplays the importance of a name when she tells her lover, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by another name would smell so sweet.” The character Cassio in Othello captures more the biblical idea of name when he speaks of reputation, “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself...”

When the world calls upon God with reverence – our petition here – it will first recognize God as father. More than that, it also sees God as deserving of awe and absolute attention.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Galatians 1:13-24)

The Black preacher began his sermon by identifying himself. He said, “I’m just a nobody, who came to tell anybody, about somebody, who died to save everybody.” In the first reading today, Paul uses more words but means to say essentially the same thing.

The passage contains Paul’s own account of God’s revelation to him of Jesus Christ. Biblical students note that the story lacks the embellishments of the three accounts of the incident in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul does not give details because his purpose is not primarily to tell his story. Rather, he intends to extol the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Neither does Paul dwell on Peter and the other apostles. They also pale in comparison to the unwarranted gift of grace.

Paul wants to impress upon his readers – which certainly include us along with the Galatians – that nothing which we do or anyone else does – be the person a Presidential candidate or a World Series hero – can be as significant for us as the love of God. Therefore, Paul indicates, it is only right that we stop calculating our own salvation and live completely for Christ. The irony (or mystery if you prefer) is that when we do so, we gain infinitely more than we can by our own efforts.

We might see praying the rosary as an example of what Paul intends here. Meditating on the mysteries of Jesus’ life as we recite the prayers by now as much part of us as the alphabet, we lose ourselves in thought. But our needs are not ignored. Rather, the Almighty takes them up for fulfillment.

Homilette for Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 10:25-37)

Commentators on Scripture note that the priest and the Levite who ignore the dying victim have some reasons to pass him by. As we might not offer help to a man standing beside a car with hood open out of wariness for a trap so too the priest and Levite might fear that the apparent victim is actually a decoy. Also, the Jewish clergy may be traveling on the other side of the road because they are on the way to Jerusalem to participate in Temple sacrifice. Handling a corpse would have prohibited the men from performing their professional services.

Still their lack of response to a person likely in desperate need is hardly commendable, much less worthy of eternal life. Entering God’s kingdom requires that we go out of our way to assist others. It happens the moment that our love as eros, seeking our own benefit, melts into love as agape, striving for the good of the other as unrelated to our own. To be sure, there is a connection between the two ways of loving. Human love always begins with eros, which is not necessarily selfish. God’s grace, however, transforms it into His unique and supreme way of caring.

Joe Biden’s story during the vice-presidential debate the other night may help us appreciate this parable. Biden remarked how as a young senator the Majority Leader Mike Mansfield corrected him for criticizing conservative senator Jesse Helms as an awful person. Mansfield told Biden that Helms and his wife had adopted a child with cerebral palsy, a deed indicating goodness. Biden’s lesson was to never judge a person’s motives; one may only judge the person’s actions. The priest and the Levite perhaps passed by the injured man for some plausible reason. But the situation called for a rescue effort, which, from all we know, they failed to provide. The Samaritan, on the other hand, showed himself to be worthy of eternal life by responding heroically to the urgent need.

Homilette for Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Job 38:1; 12-21; 40:3-5)

"Their’s not to make reply, Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die." These well-known lines of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, exalt the valor of the British cavalry in the Crimean War. The horsemen were ordered against impossible odds to attack the Russian front. When they did, their losses were heavy. Is it God’s intention in His answer to Job that humans are likewise “not to make reply” to the evil we face? Are we prohibited from reasoning, “'Why’ is this happening to me?” Must we only suffer and sacrifice?

From the first reading today it may seem so. In answering Job’s complaints that he has suffered unjustly, God indicates that His purposes are more complicated than Job could imagine. God knows the intricate relationships among all components of heaven and on earth. Job only knows how to run a farm.

However, God never says that it is wrong for Job to question. After all, He created Job with a heart to feel, a mind to think, and a mouth to ask. God tolerates Job’s questions; he does not punish him for asking. In the end God even provides some answers. The day will soon come when God will reveal more of His purpose to Job-like questioners. When God sends His son into the world to die upon the cross, God shows that He acts first and foremost out of love for humans.