Homilette for February 22, 2008

Homilettes for weekdays since February 12 may be found below.

Friday, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

(Matthew 16:13-19)

Some might think it odd to celebrate the “chair of St. Peter.” “What’s so important about a place to sit?” they may ask. Their question is not surprising as we notice the way many take different seats and postures in front of a television. But, of course, we use chairs in much more formal settings. The one who sits at the head of the table, the chairperson, often wields significant power. It is arguable that the senior Richard Daley had more power as Chairman of the Democratic Party in Cook County than as Mayor of Chicago. Anyway, we are beginning to understand some of the importance of St. Peter’s chair.

The chair that is referred to on this feast is actually the office as leader of the Church. As we see in the gospel, Jesus names Simon, “Peter,” meaning the rock upon which he establishes the Church. Peter is the spokesperson for the twelve apostles throughout the gospel. The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke and not Matthew, shows Peter with supreme authority for the original community of disciples. When Peter leaves Jerusalem, first for Antioch and then for Rome, he takes his authority for the whole Church with him. This authority, which is as much a responsibility for the welfare of all Christians, has been handed on to Peter’s successors as bishops of Rome. Of course, these are the men we know as the popes.

Today we pray for Pope Benedict XVI. He has an enormous task, especially for an elderly person. The world is increasingly more complicated and more dismissive of religion. True, there are growing numbers of Catholics and other religious adherents. But still secularists, agnostics, and atheists are leading astray many people whose ancestry was firmly Catholic. We pray that Pope Benedict upholds the integrity of our faith while welcoming new Catholics and re-evangelizing those whose families were once firmly religious.

homilette for February 21, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

(Jeremiah 17:5-10, Luke 16:19-31)

“The line between good and evil,” the great Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “is not drawn between nations or parties, but through every human heart.” He means that every one of us has a partly corrupted heart waiting renewal. Executing that renewal is precisely our Lenten project. And every one of us has in part a heart palpitating with goodness. Experiencing the growth of that vibrant heart is our cause for Easter rejoicing. In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah laments a heart so rotten that it is beyond remedy. In the gospel Jesus gives us an example – the rich man who ignores the beggar at his door.

Certainly the rich man is not punished just for having wealth. That would be like condemning the healthy person for not making herself sick in caring for others. But wealth (and health as well) has responsibilities attached. The rich must share some of their resources so that the needy may not lose their human dignity. Some might object, “What if the rich man never saw poor Lazarus at his door?” Yes, it is true that riches often bloat the face so that one’s eyes are shut to the needs of those around him or her. But surely this is not an excuse after all that Jesus and other prophets have said about compassion.

Donating to the poor carries some risks. A beggar may squander our gift on liquor. Even some highly regarded charities have misused contributors’ donations. But these concerns must not trump the call to generosity. Prudence indicates who deserves our offerings and how much is appropriate to give. We must respond accordingly. Failure to do so will only nudge our heart more to the side of corruption.

homilette for February 20, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week in Lent

(Matthew 20:17-28)

The great virtuoso violinist Ishak Perlman tells the story of a woman asking him to listen to her son play the violin. When Perlman rather reluctantly agreed, the mother took out a tape recorder and played a cassette. Perlman marveled at the beautiful music. “He sounds just like Ya Ya Haifitz,” Perlman exclaimed. “That is Ya Ya Haifitz,” the mother replied, “and my son plays just like that.”

Parents often exaggerate their children’s talents. Children may allow them to do so if they might gain some advantage for themselves. Evidently James and John do not mind their mother soliciting Jesus for seats ahead of Peter and the rest of the disciples in the Kingdom of God. But the brothers’ exalted image of themselves in the Kingdom does not impress Jesus. He is interested in whether they are willing to suffer for the sake of that Kingdom.

Lent is the season for us to get a grip on our pride. Most of us generally think too much of ourselves. Rather than compare ourselves downwards noting that we may be better than others in some ways, we should compare ourselves with the saints. Then we will see how our concerns about self betray a firm trust in God and how our depreciation of others indicates a failure to love.

Homilette for February 19, 2008

Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

(Matthew 23:1-12)

The gospel today should hit us church-goers between the eyes. Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees, the religious zealots who give religion a bad name. They are pompous about practicing religion, but are hardly charitable toward other people. The passage implicitly asks us if we may not be women and men of the Pharisees. Do we like to be seen in church but afterwards gossip about people? Do we pray at home but then express intolerance for other races and religions? If so, we would be among the biggest of sinners in Jesus’ book.

Of course, not all people who come to church are Pharisees – far from it. But at times someone calls the rectory demanding an apology for something as small as a mass intention that he had requested not being announced publicly. Certainly priests can be among the greatest of the Pharisees. The scandal over sexual abuse of children and adolescents testifies amply to that. When we find Pharisaical tendencies in our behavior, we must seek God’s assistance in prayer. We should also keep in mind Jesus’ constant teaching about humility. The ones who exalt themselves God will humble while those who act humbly, God will exalt.