Homilette for Monday, November 2, 2009

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

Mark Twain once said about the Bible, “Most people are bothered about the verses that they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” He meant that the word of God challenges us to assist others more and please ourselves less than we likely do. The consequences for not meeting those challenges, the Bible warns, are not at all reassuring.

And so we have All Souls Day to pray for the many people who had difficulty getting beyond pleasing themselves. They were not necessarily big sinners but people like most of us here, I am afraid, who could not pass up the opportunity to share a bit of gossip or to watch television rather than visit the lonely. Catholics have long placed these souls in Purgatory, a state not described in the Bible but logically deduced from squaring the prevalence of sin with belief in a merciful God.

We may have grown up thinking that Purgatory is punishment for venial sins. As far as one is prevented from enjoying what she comes to want more than anything else, there may be frustration to the point of pain involved in Purgatory. But the Eastern Church, what Pope John Paul II was fond of calling Christianity’s other lung, probably is closer to the mark when it sees Purgatory as a time of purification. In Purgatory we will work out our selfishness like a mother living in misery picks lice out of her children’s hair so that we might enter the presence of God without a blush of embarrassment. Our prayers today beseech God to expedite the process.

Homilette for Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 9:1-5; Luke 14: 1-6)

The Scripture scholar Fr. Raymond Brown posed the question, if Paul had any children, would he have raised them as Jewish Christians? Some might think not since Paul aggressively taught that Christians were dead to the Jewish law. Brown himself, however, believed that he would have. The reading from Romans today indicates why.

Obviously Paul retains a tremendous respect for Judaism. After all, he notes, God has bestowed numerous blessings on its adherents. Paul names the traditional seven and then adds one more that we will readily appreciate. The seven blessings are: 1) adoption as children of God; 2) the presence of God both in the desert and in the Temple; 3) the covenants made to the patriarchs and especially to Moses; 4) the law by which God expressed His holy will; 5) the cult which was free of barbarisms like human sacrifice; 6) the promises that Israel will become a great nation; and 7) the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- whose adherence to God won for their descendants the promise of salvation.

The final blessing on Israel is Jesus himself in whom the whole world is reconciled. If there were no other reason to be grateful for the Jews, we would do so because our savior springs from their seed. But there are many other reasons. The Jewish people have given to the world a rich cultural heritage and many of the greatest minds in history. More importantly, they have struggled with no little success to be a beacon of moral integrity following God’s eternal law and not their whims or base nature. We see their morality reaching its perfection in Jesus and his followers, but again the Jews have given us Jesus.

Homilette for Thrusday, October 29, 2009

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:31b-39; 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 which Herod needs as much as any scoundrel in history. We can easily imagine that Jesus would like to confront Herod. John is Jesus’ kinsman and may have been his 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 avoids the duel altogether. 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 directly. But Jesus gives a more valuable lesson. He exemplifies subservience to God’s will as we face all 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 should follow the Lord’s, not our own, will.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles

(Ephesians2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

The title “Jude, the Obscure,” belongs to a novel written by Thomas Hardy, but it might describe one of the two apostles whom we celebrate today. Besides his appearance on the lists of apostles given by Luke, Jude’s (or, more accurately, not the traitorous Judas’) name is mentioned in the Gospel according to John as the apostle who asks Jesus why he well reveal himself to the apostles and not to the world (John 14:22). It is not likely that this apostle wrote the New Testament letter that bears the same name.

Simon’s story is a bit thicker than that of Jude although all that we know of him comes from the distinction the evangelists make between him and Simon Peter. Luke says that he is known as “a Zealot,” meaning that he is passionate about fulfilling the Jewish law. Nevertheless, we should not think of him as a member of the revolutionary band that is known as Zealots a generation after Jesus. In Matthew and Mark, the same Simon is designated “the Cananean” which actually stems from the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word zelotes.

The first three evangelists are clear that Jesus intentionally chooses only twelve men to form his inner group of disciples. They also show that the men come from different backgrounds -- fishermen and a tax collector, for example. The fact that Simon is a zealot about the law and Matthew (or Levi) is of a profession that downplays the Law’s authority further indicates that Jesus intends that his followers bridge their differences for the project he is establishing. What we should find here is that Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God is neither ersatz nor haphazard. He has a plan which encompasses fulfilling the prophetic hope of the reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel. Inclusion of non-Jews into the Kingdom is not excluded by Jesus, but it begins only with the inauguration of the Church after Pentecost.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

In Robert Duvall’s film “The Apostle” a slick evangelist preacher with an eye for other women kills the man who is having an affair with his wife and then flees the law. He experiences true conversion and begins to preach again but in a much humbler mode. The redemption reaches a climax when the preacher courts another woman whom he is tempted to seduce. But now the man no longer fools himself and resists the sin.

Duvall’s apostle perfectly illustrates the spiritual renewal of which St. Paul writes to the Romans. The redeemed person can no longer live by the flesh and yet his/her body groans with desire. Fortunately God’s Spirit, now within the redeemed, triumphs. Paul indicates the dynamics of the Spirit’s victory. It fills the convert with hope for the recreation of all nature, what we see as the reward of heaven.

We experience our nature at odds with the Spirit in different ways. When we desire to make a cruel remark to someone who offends us, we experience a duel between sin and righteousness. When we are inclined to lie to escape a tax or a fine, we undergo the same war within. At such moments it is helpful to recall that our everlasting life is at stake.

Homilette for Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17; Luke 13:10-17)

Jesuit Scripture scholar Joseph Fitzmyer has shown that the Aramaic word abba is not meant to say “daddy” as we once excitedly learned. Yet we should not become disillusioned. St. Paul may have reverted to the Aramaic word to indicate the esteem that many Jewish children, like himself and his siblings, feel for their fathers. Pious Jewish fathers, at least, are not playboys but providers who raise their children in faith and with love. Sons and daughters of such men fear them when they are small, but as they mature the fright dissolves into love and then into a respect bordering on awe.

Paul is saying that related to God, the same movement from fear to awe is implemented in us believers by the Holy Spirit. Certainly Paul has in mind something more than a change in psychological attitude toward God as the Spirit’s fruit here. He is saying that the Spirit establishes us God’s adopted daughters and sons capable of sacrifices, like that of Jesus, which gain for us access to everlasting life.

Homilette for Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

“Red sky in the morning: sailors, take warning.” In the gospel today Jesus exhorts the people to prepare for the coming storm. Of course, he is not talking about the weather, but about judgment day which comes for most people sooner than expected.

When he mentions the need to settle with our opponent, Jesus is again telling us to prepare for judgment. We should remember that if our case goes to trial, God will be both our opponent and our judge. It’d be better, Jesus warns, that we reconcile with God now or He will easily convict us of wrong-doing.

It may be hard for some of us who attend daily mass or, at least, read the biblical texts used at mass to identify ourselves in this reading. We might have noticed that Jesus is addressing himself to the crowds and not to his disciples. Yet all of us, no doubt, find ourselves at times at odds with what we know to be true and good. Jesus then is urging us as well to recognize our selfishness and to ask forgiveness for the times that we have allowed it to override our good judgment.

Homilette for Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

Sex scandals at high levels this summer provoked a controversy regarding marriage. After the revelations of extramarital affairs involving a U.S. senator and the governor of a southern state, people have asked what marriage is for. Is its purpose the personal fulfilment of the individuals involved? Or, more traditionally, is it the procreation and education of children? With its tellingly high divorce rate, American society seems to want individual satisfaction from marriage most of all. The Church teaches differently. She says that along with the mutual sanctification of the couple in love, marriage is about bringing up children who will glorify God and benefit society.

In the first reading today, St. Paul asks his Roman Christian readers a similar question. He notes that previously they followed the licentious customs of the society around them. What good did that do for you? Paul asks. In other words, he wants to know if the fleeting pleasure of promiscuity is worth the cost of death which he rightly associates with sin. Until Christ some might have rationalized that, yes, it was worth it. But with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead another answer is in order. Now that we will gain eternal life by associating ourselves with Christ, we want to reject sin and to put our faith in him.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-48)

In today’s passage from Romans St. Paul deals with a question much like one that troubles society today. He knows that Christ has freed humans from the complexity of following the Law of Moses. The question then arises: since there is no law saying the contrary, is one free to sin? Today many ask whether the copious freedom cherished by western humanity is really good for people?

Paul answers the question of being free to sin negatively. He reasons that just as there is a slavish attention to the Law, there is also slavishness to sin. People give themselves over to sin and resultant death by doing what they know to be wrong. They usually cannot control themselves once they have started down the road to perdition. We can see this happening in addictions. Drug, alcohol, and sex addicts cannot stop doing immeasurable harm to themselves and others. Because of the damage, society to date has restricted freedom in these areas, at least a little.

Theologians after Paul have clarified the nature of true freedom. It is not only a lack of restriction but also an orientation to the good. Paul, somewhat awkwardly, calls true freedom “becoming slaves of righteousness.” It consists of practicing virtue continually so that doing what is right becomes as natural and as healthy as eating cereals and fruit for breakfast.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 5:12.15b.17-19.20b-21; Luke 12:35-38)

Paul nowhere mentions the words original sin, but in the passage from Romans that we hear today he examines it. To understand what he is saying, we need to review the story of creation.

Genesis distinguishes human creation as the only handiwork God makes in His own image. This means that we, like God, have the capacity to love. That is, we can know others as well as ourselves and give ourselves to them in relationships of trust. Genesis goes on to tell how the first humans -- Adam and Eve -- act on the tempter’s half truths to reject God’s authority. The result of their disobedience, which we name original sin, is a triple alienation. The pair become at odds with each other, with material creation, and with God. The alienation is epitomized in the bitter reality of death for them and their descendants.

Paul then completes the story. As grave as the first humans’ sin is, Christ’s grace more than makes up for it. He has overcome the triple alienation by his singular act of obedience to God, his Father. Humans can now re-enter relationships of love. No more must we die if we unite ourselves with Christ in faith.

Homilette for Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

The seventeenth century English poet George Herbert wrote a poem about creation called “The Pulley.” In it he describes God’s creating humanity with all blessings save one – rest. According to Herbert, God did not grant humans respite out of mercy, not meanness. He did not want them to be so satisfied with themselves that they might ignore the God who made them. Unfortunately, this is the hole that the rich man in the gospel today falls into.

The man is completely self-satisfied. He plans for himself, provides for himself, and even talks to himself. He does not think of the poor around him, much less of God. God, as we know, is just the opposite. He thinks of everyone, even the one who ignores Him. The man will die without having benefited from the fruit of his labors or from God. The Lord would have been overjoyed to have helped him if he would have just considered others besides himself and, perhaps, his family.

Homilette for Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:1-8; Luke 12:1-7)

The French philosopher Albert Camus made a hero out of the rogue mythological king Sisyphus. In Camus’ story Sisyphus temporarily redeems humanity by putting Death itself in chains. As a punishment for his deception, the gods assign Sisyphus the task of pushing up a mountain a boulder which falls to the bottom as soon as Sisyphus approaches the summit. Sisyphus must repeat the quest forever.

Sisyphus’ fate is not unlike the dilemma of humans without Christ. Try as they might, humans on their own could never be justified before God. The Law pointed them in the right direction, but proved to be more than any person on his or her own could fulfill. St. Paul tells us today that justification comes by faith as it did in the case of Abraham of old. In the coming days we will hear Paul proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection as the definitive content of faith. To be justified, Paul will say, we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The news of salvation through faith is too grand for a grim realist like Albert Camus to bear. Camus thought that the best humans could do is to achieve integrity and, perhaps, an esprit de corps in carrying on the daily struggle of life until death. But we Christians dare to hope for much more because of the testimony of those like Paul. The apostles’ encounter with the risen Jesus changed their lives and sent them testifying until their bloody deaths his message of everlasting life.

Homilette for Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memorial of St. Theresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

The University of St. Thomas in Rome ("the Angelicum") is situated in a formidable construction not far from the famous Coliseum. The building was erected in the sixteenth century to house a community of nuns. It is said that the nuns were wealthy matrons who arrived at the convent with their servants. Each nun evidently took an amply-sized, comfortable room on the first floors while the servants were given much less spacious quarters on the second floor. The life-style was likely equivalent to that in Carmels which St. Theresa of Avila set out to reform in the same sixteenth century.

In the gospel passages which we read at Mass this week Jesus assumes the role of a reformer of sorts. He criticizes the piety of the scribes and Pharisees, which was gaining popularity in his days, for being more concerned about superficiality than about significant moral matter. They insist on ritual washing but give little to the poor. They pay tithes on small things but care little about the judgment of God in substantial matters like due honor to parents. They build monuments to the slain prophets of old but are ready to murder the apostles whom Jesus will send out to preach God’s Kingdom.

It is sometimes said that the Church is in a constant state of reform. This means that the Church must always recall its roots and strive to remain faithful to them. In a world where comforts soon turn into needs, where charity becomes tax shelter, and church-going melts into socializing, it is necessary for all of us to redouble efforts to live the gospel.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 2:1-11; Luke: 11:42-46)

In allowing for human failure, the Church must take care not to accept it as permissible. Sin not only damages human relations, it also undermines the thanksgiving offering that the Church makes to the Creator. Paul in the first reading today shows urgency about not condoning sin.

Paul indicates that God’s tolerance of sin is an act of mercy not permission. In not destroying sinners outright, God wants them to take advantage of His goodness by repenting. But Paul is clear that the time for repentance is limited. Sooner or later, sinners will have to pay the price of their iniquity. Paul also emphasizes that God plays no favorites. Poor as well as rich who do not turn their backs on sin will face annihilation.

Perhaps we tolerate our own sins with the thought that striving for perfection leads to neurosis. We also make excuses for our failings with such banalities as “charity covers a multitude of sins.” But perfection is a goal, not an expectation. Only by striving for it can we, with God’s help, approach perfection. It is worth the effort because it gives God glory and, again with God’s grace, merits for us eternal life.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” Most Americans recognize these words from the Declaration of Independence almost as surely as they recognize the red, white, and blue. However, by speaking of truths that are “self-evident,” the words imply a reality that many Americans have trouble seeing. That reality is natural law governing human actions.

In the reading from Romans today, Paul refers to natural law. He writes, “...for although they knew God, they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.” He means to say that Greek and Roman pagans should be aware that their carnal excesses are offensive to the Creator by their observance of human nature. For this reason Paul exhorts Roman Christians not to follow the example of their neighbors.

Today law courts and law schools increasingly deny natural law in favor of the idea that law is the agreement of citizens. The failure to recognize natural law is subversive for it not only has led to such a pernicious practice as physician-assisted suicide but also can easily deny an ideal so fundamental as human rights. The Church, citing St. Paul among many other sources, benefits society greatly by insisting on the existence and the pertinence of natural law.

Homilette for Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

St. Augustine famously said, “With you I am a Christian; for you I am a bishop.” The first title, the bishop of Hippo went on, filled him with consolation while the second one made him fearful. Augustine, like Paul in his introduction to the Romans which we read today, realized that Christ comforts his people. On the other hand, to be a bishop or any minister means to stand in the place of Christ – which is the humongous task of treating others with his care.

Christians, like Paul says of himself, are in a sense slaves of Christ. We do what he commands. But this term by no means exhausts our identity. More than that, we are Christ’s sisters and brothers, adopted into God’s family as daughters and sons. This means that we carry out Christ’s commands not out of submission but out of freedom. We no longer see God as a prisoner views the warden watching every move he makes. Rather God is more like a mother observing her baby begin to walk and ready to assist the baby with each step.

Paul also emphasizes that Christ has sent him out as his apostle. But he does not claim any particular privilege for being so named. Rather he realizes the terrible burdens that Christ has laid upon him with the sending. In other writings Paul lists the sufferings that he has undergone in bringing the gospel to others. For now he seems content with mentioning how the call to apostleship links him with women and men in different places as sisters and brothers.

Homilette for Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

A colonial legislature was in session when a towering thunderstorm darkened the skies. The occasion seemed so ominous that some of the legislators, fearing it was the biblical “day of the Lord,” thought it would be best to adjourn the session and return to their families for the Lord’s arrival. The Speaker of the chamber, however, thought differently. He spoke up, “If it is the ‘Day of the Lord,’ then we will want to be found at work when He comes. If it is not, then we would look foolish for fearing that it is. Therefore, I say, bring in the candles.”

We find warnings of the “day of the Lord” in many of the prophets like in Joel today. They view it as the end of the world -- a time of judgment for which people must prepare by turning away from their evil ways. Jesus, also a prophet, gives a hopeful note to the “day of the Lord.” Besides judgment, he sees it as the moment of vindication to those who live righteously. It is not that the “day of the Lord” will be easy for anyone in Jesus’ mind but that rejoicing will follow for those who have been faithful to his ways.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke see the “day of the Lord” arriving with the crucifixion. The sky in these three gospels darkens, as Joel foresees in the reading today, when Jesus dies on Calvary. The first three evangelists are indicating – as John does in a unique way – that the cross presents the moment of judgment for the world. Those who recognize Jesus as the Son of God by his sheer innocence in death are saved. Those who cannot distinguish Jesus’ goodness are condemned. Of course, recognition here implies willingness to conform to his ways.

Homilette for Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Why is it that some people – mostly men? – have difficulty asking God for help? Perhaps we do not want to feel foolish should God not answer our prayers as we expect. Or maybe we like to think of ourselves as independent on Him as well as everyone else. In the gospel today Jesus provides two images to free us from our debilitating reluctance to seek assistance.

First, Jesus suggests that we may consider God as a friend to whom we may go with our problems. But, he indicates, God is better than a friend because He will assist us not just to avoid the embarrassment of denying a needy associate, much less to quiet a persistent acquaintance. No, God is the perfect friend who cares for us like a father – the second image -- loves his children. That is, God seeks only what is truly good for us. The difference between God’s friendship and every other friendship -- or, for that matter, God’s Fatherhood and any other fatherhood -- is that God can afford us the perfect gift, the Holy Spirit, who fills us with joy, love, and peace.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Lady of the Rosary

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

“’Teach us to pray...’” the disciples ask Jesus in the gospel today. If the appeal were made to us, we might respond by telling the petitioner to find a rosary. For good reason Catholics view the rosary as the unofficial prayer of the Church.

The rosary is both physical and mental, both Scriptural and devotional prayer. Although it is often recited on one’s knees, posture is not as integral to the rosary as fingering its beads. Pressing each bead as we progress through the five “Our Fathers” and Glory Bes” and fifty “Hail Marys,” we remind ourselves that our salvation took place through God becoming human like ourselves. More importantly, the rosary invites us to consider the whole story of Christ as it moves from the announcement of his birth in the Joyous Mysteries, through his instructive ministry in the Luminous Mysteries, to his salvific death in the Sorrowful Mysteries, and finally to his heavenly reign in the Glorious Mysteries.

Scripture not only gives us matter for reflection but also provides the words we recite. The “Our Father” comes from today’s gospel, and the first part of the “Hail Mary” is derived from salutations by the angel Gabriel’s and Mary’s relative Elizabeth in Luke’s infancy narrative. When we pray the rosary, we put ourselves in communion with people reciting it around the world. Just as remarkable, the rosary lends itself to communal recitation. We may say it alone, but it is especially satisfying to pray it with others as if it were the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, where we echo one another in offering God praise.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Giving a talk to Missionaries of Charity, the congregation Mother Teresa founded, will likely humble any priest aware of what is going on. The sisters place a chair in the center of the room for the priest and then sit on the floor around him. No doubt they see themselves as taking the posture of Mary listening to Jesus in the gospel today.

In the passage Jesus acts prophetically in a number of ways. First, he visits a woman’s home and then he allows a woman to sit at his feet. Rabbis do not take such liberties in biblical days for obvious reasons. But Jesus is in no way constrained by social customs neither to associate with women nor to have one in the position of his disciple. Indeed, he wants women must hear the gospel as well as men.

The great fourteenth century theologian Meister Eckhart saw Martha as Jesus’ disciple even more than Mary. He taught that where Mary only listens to the word of God as it comes from Jesus, Martha puts that word into practice by serving others. It’s a novel interpretation of the gospel but one which reinforces the idea that women as well as men express discipleship of Jesus in different ways.

Homilette for Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 1:1-2:1.11; Luke 10:25-37)

Americans cherish autonomy. That is, we want to choose for ourselves what we will do. We see autonomy as the source of freedom and the cornerstone of happiness. Of course, we recognize the need for laws, but for many Americans the fewer, the better!

Jonah might be considered a typical American. Where God tells him to go to Nineveh as a prophet, he goes the other way as an autonomous person. Jonah is even less attentive to God than the pagan sailors who at first refuse to throw Jonah overboard because their consciences tell them that it would be wrong.

If we think of autonomy as freedom from servitude, it has something to commend itself. Humans should not be forced to submit themselves to others except for a serious reason like incarceration or imminent danger. Nevertheless, autonomy that runs against God’s intentions can endanger the welfare of a society. Because no one lives independently of others, everyone has responsibilities for the common good of all. Acting as if we were completely autonomous, we may refuse to recognize the benefits that others bring us and may reject the possibility of happiness in caring relationships with them.
Memorial of the Guardian Angels

(Baruch 1:15-22; Matthew 18:1-5.10)

We should not understand the gospel today to mean that only children have guardian angels. Jesus’ vision is more inclusive than that. Each of us is protected by angels through God’s mercy. This truth is evidenced in the whole passage of which today’s reading forms the beginning and middle.

Jesus warns his disciples that they are to look after weak Christians who stray from the faith. In a recent novel a young pastor gets wind that a new member of his congregation is having an adulterous affair. He goes to investigate one evening and sees a woman leaving the man’s apartment. Not waiting to investigate further, the pastor confronts his parishioner. He tells the adulterer to stay away from Sunday worship until he has chosen definitively for the Lord. The man knows what he must do and ends the affair.

When errant Christians stop praying or when they choose pleasure over doing God’s will, we are to assist their return to righteousness. Sometimes it will be counter-productive to confront sinners, but we must at least pray for them. Jesus makes clear that if his disciples fail to intervene in such a matter, they will face dire consequences since weak Christians also have angels in direct communication with God.