Homilette for Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6, Psalm 122, Matthew 8:5-11)

During Advent we are to wait patiently and purposefully but also with anticipation for the coming of the Lord. Since most people busy themselves with commerce and revelry in December, we are challenged to appreciate the import of these adverbs.

We wait patiently by reflecting on the significance of Christ’s coming. We mean, of course, his return in glory at the end of time when he will show himself to be what we have claimed all along – the eternal Son of God who has redeemed humanity. When he comes, all nations will recognize him as “Lord” as the centurion does in the gospel passage today.

Of course, we want to be recognized as faithful subjects upon his arrival. Thus, we purposefully follow his commands daily. Isaiah envisions many coming for instruction in the Lord’s way. He says that they will learn to spend their resources on instruments that build up rather than tear down. Christians understand this vision realized in the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. A third of the world now follows his message of mercy, not resistance; charity, not self-aggrandizement.

Waiting with anticipation seems to conflict with waiting patiently. After all, when we anticipate something, we want to see it now. Nevertheless, there is coherence between the two terms. Since we realize that Jesus will probably not yet return in full glory, we tune up our ears and enhance our sights to discern how to perceive his presence in the world today. It is like standing on tip-toes for a glimpse of the new president in parade. In this way we see Christ in the poor, in the generosity of others, and -- most of all – in the Eucharistic offering. This anticipation resembles the eagerness of the holy people to enter Jerusalem in the responsorial psalm.

Homilette for Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 20:1-4.11-21.2; Psalm 84; Luke 21:29-33)

Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation. For this reason the last book of the Bible, from which we take the first reading today, is alternately called the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation (no s please). Apocalyptic literature, however, of which the Apocalypse is the only full biblical example, has a meaning beyond revelatory. It refers to stories that relate a struggle between God and the powers of darkness causing the end of the world as it now exists and its replacement by the Kingdom of God. Today’s first reading gives an account of that struggle and the coming Kingdom characterized by “a new heaven” and “a new earth.”

Since the destiny of the present world is annihilation, some Christians have questioned the value of working for a better world. “Why should we take risks to create a better society when we know that this world is bound to crumble?” they ask and, “Is it not just vanity to assume that the Kingdom of God is our work?” The “Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” of the Second Vatican Council addresses these provocative issues. It declares that “the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one.” Its reasoning is that present institutions can exhibit some of the values and constructs of the future age. For sure, it warns that not all earthly progress foreshadows the Kingdom of God, and that we must be careful never to equate the two. But still, since Christ began the work of the Kingdom when he walked the earth, then we, his followers, have the responsibility of carrying on his efforts. In other words, we must do what we can to build up the Kingdom of God until he comes again to complete the work.

Homily for Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19)

Tony Snow was an American journalist who became President Bush’s press secretary. He died prematurely this past July leaving behind a legacy of hope, candor, and goodwill. Snow once wrote, “If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down.” Snow meant, I think, that we Americans are not so independent or, as people say today, autonomous as we are conscious of God’s presence in our lives.

What specifically do we thank God for? Obviously the roots of Thanksgiving go back to a harvest festival recognizing God’s hand in the production of the fruits of the earth. We children of the Industrial Age and beyond, also thank God for the bounty that we have experienced in our lives – family and friends, education and opportunity, peace and prosperity. As Christians we have a further and deeper reason for giving God thanks. God has forgiven our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has sent us the Holy Spirit so that we might live as daughters and sons of righteousness. In the Eucharist where we memorialize Christ’s paschal sacrifice we express our thanks for this new life of grace.

Some may object here that Christians do not act any more enlightened than other peoples. That is a hypothesis which needs to be tested. Certainly missionary efforts establishing hospitals and schools in pagan and non-Christian areas testify to Christian concern for others. In any case we might take note of what St. Paul is saying in today’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians. He thanks God for the Corinthians’ coming to faith even though further into the letter he will chastise them for different excesses and abuses. Paul recognizes that his Corinthians are indeed a community of renewed women and men, many of whom lead exemplary lives. The Church will always count some incorrigibles and backsliders in her midst; nevertheless, we know her, as well Paul knew the Christians in Corinth, to be a community of decent people striving to follow Christ’s lead. For being called to this people of faith we are also thankful.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 98; Luke 21:12-19)

Non sequitur” is a Latin expression that means a conclusion does not follow from the evidence given. Listening to Jesus in the gospel, we might think that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” is a non sequitur. From all that Jesus warns about the seizure and persecution of his followers, it sounds contradictory to predict that their coiffures will not be upset. But Jesus has something else in mind when he gives this assurance. He means that faithful Christians will receive an eternal reward life when they risk giving testimony to him in the world.

The passage helps us understand the crucial difference between optimism and hope. We may think that the two words carry more or less the same meaning, but this is not the case. Optimism is an attitude that expects every situation to turn out well. It overlooks the possibility of harm with a sunny disposition. Hope, in contrast, recognizes suffering as part of human reality but sees deliverance in the long run at least coming from the one in which the person hopes. Hope is not as self-reliant as optimism, nor is it so sure that relief is around the corner.

In facing trials – whether persecution for the faith, debilitating sickness, or other threats to well-being – Christians hope in Jesus. He promises to deliver us from harm when we stand by him. The surety of deliverance does not preclude the real possibility of suffering, but our confidence in Jesus is ratified by his resurrection from the tomb.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Psalm 96; Luke 21:5-11)

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” relates how the statue of an ancient Egyptian king was found in the middle of a desert. The statue’s shattered state betrayed the sign it bore naming the figure the “Ozymandias, King of Kings” and telling the on-looker to despair in awe. The poem reminds the reader that the greatest works of art as well as the greatest people are all time-bound. Their fame hardly lasts for centuries, much less for eternity.

In the gospel Jesus relates the same prophetic message. People gaze starry-eyed at the wonders of the Temple, but Jesus tells them not to be impressed. The Temple, he says, will fall as it indeed did barely a generation after his death. Jesus also warns his disciples not to follow unreservedly the great personages who may claim to be him or like him. These men and women will also pass away.

We Christians give our full allegiance to God alone. He is the source and goal of our lives. Yes, we try to make of the earth a decent place to live. But we should not become too comfortable and never complacent here. We seek a peaceful earth so that we might come to know and love God who promises us heaven as our true home.

Homilette for Monday, November 24, 2008

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Psalm 24; Luke 21:1-4)

A railroad company once put out a notice that it would be hiring. When many men came to apply, all were told to take a seat and the job recipient would be announced. After a while they heard a tapping noise at which one of the men arose to claim the job. When the others protested that the job recipient was not announced as promised, the employer said that it most certainly was. He explained that the tapping was Morse code announcing that the person able to decipher the message would be the one hired. Something similar takes place in the first reading from the Book of Revelation which speaks of a strange-sounding hymn.

The new hymn which only the one hundred and forty-four thousand elect can sing refers to the life of grace that most people choose not to follow. Adherents to this way of life follow the Lamb, who is Christ, wherever he goes, even to death. They are unblemished because they refuse to tell a lie or to succumb to other vices. They live for God alone.

Do we belong to the army of the elect? We need not worry that inscription is limited to one hundred and forty-four thousand people in all history. That figure is metaphorical standing for people of every race and land. But we must concern ourselves with striving for perfection. We are to refrain from sin and, at least as important, to do what is good. It is a lifestyle which resists the temptation to personal comfort that has become a kind of social addiction. Quite the contrary, the lifestyle of the elect goes out of its way to assist the needy.

Homilette for Friday, November 21, 2008

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 8:1-11; Psalm 119; Luke 19:45-48)

Today’s memorial pictures the day when Mary’s aged parents presented her to the Lord in Jewish Temple. There is no record of this event in any of the four canonical gospels although an apocryphal gospel, the “Protoevangelium of James,” does tell of it. Since this source appears relatively late in the Christian tradition, scholars doubt its accuracy.

The Church retains the feast on its calendar at least partly because it recalls the founding of a church dedicated to Mary near the Temple site. More to the point, Christians see Mary herself as the new Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Bearing Jesus in her womb, she becomes the shrine of the holy.

By happy coincidence today’s gospel reading shows Jesus cleansing the Temple as recorded by the evangelist Luke. Of all the gospel writers Luke gives by far the most favorable impression of the Temple. His gospel begins there with the account of the angel’s revelation to Zachariah that his wife will give birth to a son. It also ends in the Temple where the disciples retreat to praise God after Jesus’ ascension. In Luke Jesus purifies the Temple area not because the Temple is corrupt but because of marketing excesses carried on there. Significantly, he returns to the Temple area to teach. We must never forget that Jesus was always a law-abiding Jew with high regard for the Temple. Now we can exalt the Temple all the more since it not only is a holy place where the Lord habituated; it is also an image for his most blessed mother.

Homilette for Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 5:1-10; Psalm 149; Luke 19:41-44)

At the Battle of the Alamo the garrison of Texan revolutionaries fought until death against the Mexican army. The soldiers did not intend, however, to sacrifice their lives when they began the fight but were counting on reinforcements to save them. Their commander, Colonel William Travis, had sent out a plea for help. If they could only hold out a little longer, the garrison must have thought, everything would be all right. The Book of Revelation was written in a similar frame of mind. Because Christians at the end of the first century were being persecuted, the author penned a story encouraging them to hold on until help arrives. The passage today shows the beginning of that relief effort.

To understand the Book of Revelation we must be aware that it is highly allegorical. It is written in code, as it were, with words and phrases having multiple meanings. Its first readers understood these meanings, but for the most part we must rely on experts to interpret them. For example, today’s passage speaks of “a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat upon the throne” to indicate that the world’s destiny is known by God alone and someone worthy must not only reveal that destiny to humans but also make it happen. The text names the Lamb as the indicated revealer and catalyst. Christians today as well as at the time of Revelation’s writing recognize the Lamb as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Knowing that Jesus is fighting on their side encouraged early Christians to contend with external persecution. It should move us today to resist the internal temptations of pride, greed, and lust. Some may not like to portray life as a battleground where humans are pitted against their passions, but it is a fitting image to describe the challenges we face daily. The author of the Book of Revelation would assure us that God sees our struggles to live righteously and has commissioned Christ to come to our aid.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 4:1-11; Psalm 150; Luke 19:11-28)

In his Confessions St. Augustine asks, “What then is time?” He says that he knows what it is if no one asks, but when he is prompted to explain it, a sufficient answer escapes him. In the gospel today, Jesus does not attempt to explain time. But he compares it to gold coins that a rich man lends to his servants to invest shrewdly. Like the coins, time is not really a gift, much less a luxury. Rather it is an article of trade that humans are to use for doing what is good.

In Jesus’ parable, one servant returns the coin that his master loans him without any profit. He has not squandered the money but has not taken advantage of it either. If the coin were time, we might imagine him getting up in the morning, going to work, eating dinner and watching television before going to bed – a cycle that is repeated thousands of times in a long life. The person has apparently done nothing wrong. But what we might find innocuous, God finds deplorable. God would condemn the man for leading a life as worthless as Monopoly scrip because he has not served God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace.

If the judgment sounds harsh, we should take note of the last line of the passage. Jesus is ascending to Jerusalem where he will lay down his life for our salvation. We must read this as more than preparing a place for us in eternity. It also means that he will release for us the Holy Spirit so that we might take advantage of the time lent us. With the Spirit’s lead, we will follow Jesus’ way of selfless love that restores sight to the blind and sets captives free. Such acts of mercy make life – the time we have – worth living.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Psalm 15; Luke 19:1-10)

The old Beatle George Harrison expresses the desire of Zacchaeus and of us as well when he sings, “Lord, I just want to see you.” Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a bird’s view of Jesus passing by. We will have to strain our imaginations to see Jesus for the gospels reveal little to nothing of ho Jesus looked or gestured.

But seeing Jesus with one’s eyes holds no great advantage. Most of those who saw Jesus did not choose to follow him. Indeed, the majority of the witnesses to his miracles turned their backs on his call to conversion. More important than seeing Jesus is having faith in him. As he says in John’s Gospel, “`Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’”

Surprising to many, Zacchaeus expresses such faith. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus is expected to swindle the poor, not to treat them with kindness. But he couldn’t be more generous as he promises to give the needy half of his possessions. The only recognizable motive for his doing so is his belief that since Jesus brings salvation, what better thing is there to do with one’s wealth than to share it with Jesus’ special friends.

Homilette for Monday, November 17, 2008

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5; Psalm 1; Luke 18:35-43)

In a recent film, title role character Henry Poole cannot see the face of Christ on the side of his house. “You’re not looking,” protests a woman who believes the image is miraculously produced. Whether or not it is a miracle, the woman is correct in suggesting that faith is a particular way of seeing. Faith looks beyond appearances into the heart of reality. It discerns divinity in the Eucharistic bread, loving care supporting a people devastated by famine, and the eternal destiny of life succumbing to cancer. In the gospel today, the faith of the blind beggar recognizes Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited savior even without the faculty of sight.

Determination characterizes the blind man’s faith as well as conviction. When the people rebuke him – perhaps because they hear his salutation “Son of David” as blasphemy -- he yells all the louder. Because of his clamorous insistence, Jesus responds favorably to the beggar’s request for physical sight.

Finally, the man’s faith propels him to follow Jesus and to praise God. That is, he no longer sits alone but becomes part of the Christian community. Here he will meet like-minded people who have been similarly touched by Jesus’ gracious presence. Together they will comfort one another, call others to their company, and create a better world until Jesus returns in glory.

Homilette for Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(II John 4-9; Psalm 119; Luke 17:26-37)

One form of dualism sees all material things as evil and all spiritual entities as good. It is said that candidates for dualist sects of this sort often waited until death was imminent before committing themselves completely because they did not want to give up the pleasure of the material world! Christianity is not dualistic, but Christians have always wanted to know when the world will end so that they might prepare themselves to meet the Lord. In the gospel today Jesus’ disciples show interest in the time of his return so that they also might alter their lives appropriately.

However, Jesus does not know the time of his return. He only can say that people will not be expecting his coming when he in fact arrives. Unfortunately, he soberly tells his disciples, most of the people will likely be pursuing their passions at that time. Still the situation is not hopeless. Jesus assures his disciples (who include us, of course) that if those who sincerely seek God’s kingdom will be saved. On the other hand, those who try to build kingdoms for themselves will be lost.

Homilette for thursday, November 13, 2008

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin

(Philemon 7-20, Psalm 146, Luke 17:20-25)

The Letter to Philemon differs from all other Pauline letters in the New Testament in several ways. It is the shortest of the letters – so short that the monastic editor centuries ago did not choose to divide it into chapters. Also, it is Paul’s only canonical letter intended for an individual (although its salutation includes a number of people). Finally, the letter involves one specific issue – the acceptance of the slave Onesimus back into Philemon’s household. Despite its brevity and specificity, we are wise to consider this letter well. One author has written a very successful book calling “Philemon’s problem,” “the problem of any believer.”

Onesimus was a runaway slave who Paul instructed in the Christian faith. Now Paul is sending him back to his master with the appeal that he be accepted as a brother. Paul is at least suggesting that that Philemon not punish Onesimus for his abandonment. He is also hinting that Philemon set Onesimus free. Of course, even the first request might create trouble for Philemon. Slaves’ misconduct was expected to be punished to deter further transgression of rules. If Philemon were to free Philemon, the other slaves would like beat the same path to Paul’s door so that they too might enjoy liberty.

Gratefully, the institution of slavery does not exist today as it did in Paul’s time and in most of the world until quite recently. But still Christians are plagued by the dilemma of what to do when contemporary norms conflict with our religious beliefs. Should we fight in a war that our government starts with a preemptive strike? Should we vote for a political candidate with many excellent credentials but who legitimizes abortion? Should we shop at stores whose practices reduce employee health care benefits? Scripture provides us no easy answers to these questions just as Paul gives Philemon no clear directive. We should, however, grapple conscientiously with the dilemmas searching for the right thing to do, again just as Paul expects Philemon to consider Onesimus a brother.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr

(Titus 3:1-7; Psalm 23; Luke 17:11-19)

Why is Jesus annoyed with the nine men who do not return to give him thanks? Is he not aware that their first reaction after being completely marginalized by leprosy would be jubilation, not thanksgiving? Perhaps he is personally offended that all ten former lepers do not acknowledge his healing authority? Or is there another explanation, more characteristic of Jesus?

The Fourth Preface for Weekdays provides an intriguing answer to these questions. The preface is the prayer of thanksgiving that the priest makes on behalf of the people at Mass just before the consecration of the bread and wine. The Fourth Preface uses these words: “Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.”

In the gospel Jesus is not upset because he feels slighted by the nine lepers who do not return. Rather he is sorry that they do not take advantage of the grace that God extends by our giving thanks. Jesus reveals God’s inestimable gift when he tells the grateful leper, “...your faith has saved you.” As terrible a curse as leprosy is, it cannot compare to the oblivion of eternal damnation. The tenth leper has found his way to everlasting life, the greatest of God’s benefices. The other nine may now have an easier path to walk on earth, but they still have to work out their salvation.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(Titus 2:1-8.11-14; Psalm 37; Luke 17:7-10)

Gene Sharp is America’s foremost theorist of non-violent conflict resolution. In a lecture given many years ago, he stated that army generals were among his most attentive listeners. Knowing that the assertion sounded odd, Sharp explained. He said that true military leaders do not want their soldiers’ lives wasted in unnecessary violence. As we celebrate today a former soldier, St. Martin of Tours, and the traditional Veterans Day we can explore more deeply the responsibilities of military leaders to limit the use of force.

Born of pagan parents, St. Martin of Tours spans most of the fourth century. As a young man, he served in the Roman military, but when he became a Christian he sought release from military duty. He said at the time, “I am (now) a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight.” As a Christian, St. Martin founded perhaps the first monastery in the Western Christendom and became a popular bishop for the people of Tours. To this day, he is generally pictured as the merciful soldier who uses his sword to divide his cloak so that it might be shared with a beggar.

In the first reading today from the Letter to Titus old men are reminded to be temperate while young men are encouraged to control themselves. These admonitions are meant for all, but they have particular import for military personnel who have such awesome firepower at hand. At least since St. Augustine, the Church has taught that there still is a time for war. But with the advent of nuclear weapons, she has insisted with increasing urgency on the need of reconciling conflict peacefully. Seasoned officers must not recklessly risk their own soldiers nor must they seek the annihilation of the enemy in pursuit of victory. Likewise, young soldiers must remember the sanctity of human life and not inflict more injury than necessary to achieve a valid military objective.

Homilette for Monday, November 10, 2008

Memorial of St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Titus 1:1-9; Psalm 24; Luke 17:1-6)

Jesus is not only addressing his apostles in the gospel passage today. His words are meant for all people charged with the care of others. Parents, teachers, supervisors, government servants, military officers should take notice.

Jesus warns those in leadership that they must never give scandal since the penalty for this offense might drown even a Navy frogman. The apostles, who will become heads of local churches, anticipate the grave responsibility of their selection and ask Jesus for an increase of faith. They sound like teachers seeking a raise because they are entrusted with the care of children. Teachers may deserve an increase that exceeds the rise in the cost of living, but Jesus assures the Twelve that they have enough faith. Even if it appears small, he tells them, their faith can produce an orchard of fruit!

We share some of the apostles’ anxiety. We feel that our faith is insufficient to meet our responsibilities when God does not immediately answer our prayers. The saga of St. Leo the Great whose memorial we celebrate today should give us hope. St. Leo was pope when Attila the Hun, who had plundered northern Italy, headed for Rome. When the two met face-to-face, Pope Leo was able to convince the barbarian not to attack Rome but to settle for tribute. St. Leo the Great demonstrates how to meet challenges with equanimity, praying to God for prudence to make the right decision and for His continuing assistance that all may turn out well.

Homilette for Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 16:1-8)

Social activists have a saying about money. They claim, “Money is like fertilizer; it needs to be spread around before it does much good.” In the gospel today Jesus expresses his assent to the statement. He tells us to dispense our treasure to assist the poor so that we might earn a place in heaven.

The parable which Jesus employs in the passage has furrowed Christian eyebrows throughout the ages. Many wonder whether Jesus is approving of fraud when he has the rich man speak admiringly of the steward for looking out singularly for his own welfare. However, the accolade is only similar to that a theft victim may utter who stands in awe of a thief for picking his pocket without him feeling a thing. The rich man is only impressed by the capacity of the steward to provide for his future with few resources. He does not call the action righteous.

The key to the passage is to understand what it means to be “children of the light.” Christ has opened our eyes so that we see the poor as our brothers and sisters providing us opportunity to demonstrate our love. Surely our discipleship of Christ involves more than prayer and fellowship. It requires service which we render by working for a just society.

Homilette for Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 3:3-8a)

Circumcision being what it is, we might be shocked by Paul calling the Christian community “the circumcision.” Very likely Paul uses the term for affect, that is, to rouse his readers’ attention to what he is saying. But, like the instance in the second letter to the Corinthians when he calls Christ “sin,” a deeper truth is conveyed by his choice of words.

The prophets saw that circumcision of the male sexual organ as a sign of covenant with the Lord was not enough to assure the people’s virtue. Jeremiah recognized that circumcision of the heart, the proverbial seat of inner motivation, was necessary if the person was to live righteously. Today with cardiac surgery facilitating the proper functioning of the heart, we can more easily understand what Jeremiah meant. As human hearts can physically clog with fats, they can spiritually clog with desires for pleasure, power, and prestige.

The grace of Christ has altered the Christian heart so that it functions efficaciously. With Baptism love floods our hearts so that egotism is removed and love for God and neighbor takes hold. In communion with the faithful of every land we become the people that God intended when He called for circumcision. We become His people who do what is right because it is right even to the point of sacrificing ourselves to do the right.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 14:25-33)

Gospel commentators call Jesus’ shocking statement that his followers are to hate their families a “Semiticism.” This means that it was a way of expressing oneself in the Semitic language that Jesus spoke. Evidently his native Aramaic did not use comparatives. For Jesus to indicate that his disciples have to love him more than their families, he has to say that they must love him and hate their families. Of course, he does not mean that they are to scorn their loved ones. After all, how could Jesus, who taught the primacy of love of God and neighbor, mean that we are to literally hate those who are closest to us?

But some of us may have difficulty with the idea of even loving Jesus more than our families and close friends. “How can he expect that of us?” we might ask. To answer the question we should make a distinction. To love Jesus above all is not to say that we always feel greater affection for him than for other loved ones. Although we are to love him with all our heart, this does not crowd out affection for others. Rather it means that we set our hearts on doing his will first and foremost. Out of admiration of his goodness and gratitude for his sacrifice, we give him our primary allegiance.

The result of such a relationship with Jesus enables us to love others not less but more. To alter Shakespeare’s Othello’s famous line, we can love family and friends both wisely and well. Allegiance to Jesus means doing what is truly good for all. We will not confuse indulgence with care and submit to the whims of children. We will not accept the prejudices that pervaded our parents’ home but treat all people with respect. We will not allow communication with our spouses to shrivel when we become aware that they think differently but always make an effort to convey our deepest feelings.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Luke 14:15-24)

There is a story about an African-American who meets God outside of a church. He apologizes to the Lord saying that he wants to enter the church but the people inside won’t let him in. God responds that He too has been trying to get inside that church for years but the people won’t let Him in either.

The story represents a valid way of reading today’s gospel parable. At one time, not that long ago, most American churches were segregated. African-Americans were either prohibited from entering a white congregation or forced to sit apart. This might not have been the pastor’s wish, but it was, in many places, a de facto practice. Jesus, of course, would never accept such an arrangement. We can rightly hear him comparing the segregationists to those who are invited to the great Eucharistic banquet at the end of time but who refuse to attend. Blacks and the poor will then take their places in heaven.

Today, however, we can interpret the parable in a different light. As everyone knows, attendance in Catholic Churches has decreased somewhat over the last forty years. Those who no longer attend give excuses that sound similar to the ones we hear in the parable – they are too busy; they are working; they are expecting company. Others though have replaced them so that Catholic masses are still relatively full on Sundays. These are the people who will also occupy places at the Eucharistic banquet in heaven. The newcomers are largely immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Homilette for Monday, November 3, 2008

Memorial of St. Martin de Porres, religious

(Philippians 2:1-4)

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus’ third beatitude on the mount tells us, “for they shall inherit the earth.” The claim sounds so preposterous that one commentator declares that the land Jesus has in mind is the “new earth,” the kingdom of heaven. No doubt, the commentator is correct. The meek gain God’s kingdom, but at times it seems that they also capture high regard on this earth, corrupted as it is.

Certainly St. Martin de Porres exemplifies a person of humility ascending to renown. He belonged to the Dominican Order which has achieved recognition for scholarship. Yet St. Martin did not leave behind any notable writings but only a legacy of charity. He thought of himself as a poor sinner who needed to perform constant acts of penance. As well as any saint in history, perhaps, Martin lived what St. Paul writes about in today’s first reading: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves...” Interestingly, St. Martin has become the most popular Dominican saint, surpassing in notoriety his holy patron, Dominic Guzman, and his illustrious confrere, Thomas Aquinas.

Most of us cannot hope to duplicate Martin de Porres’ humility, but this doesn’t mean that we should not try to imitate it. We must never fool ourselves with the rationalization that humility, as the proper evaluation of one’s own worth, makes one recognize himself or herself as superior to the common lot. Such fatuous logic will only lead one down a road of perdition. Our aim should not be subservience to others but rather, in line with St. Martin, Christ’s sense of submission to God. As Paul will go on to write, Christ became obedient to God to the extent of suffering death on a cross.