Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2010, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/092610.shtml

Scholars like to talk about religion as a normative function of society. As in, religion teaches children how to behave, and conform to cultural norms. Schoolbooks describe religion as social control, and for the most part they are correct. Religion is often a mirror of what the people attending church already think and feel.

But that isn’t what we read today.

“Woe to the complacent in Zion!” cries Amos. Shame to the people of God who drink wine and perfume themselves, but are not made sick at the suffering of their brother! They shall be first ones exiled, and their self-absorbed celebrating be done away with.

In his parable Jesus condemns those who aren’t aware of the suffering of the poor, who are content in their own blessings. We aren’t told that the rich man was especially wicked; we are only told that in life he received what was good, while Lazarus received what was bad. Now in Hell the rich man advocates mercy. But it is interesting that while we know Lazarus by name, we don’t know the name of the rich man. And this is the sin: the rich man did not know Lazarus.

We are not called to be the normal of society. Christian writers spend a lot of time making distinction between religion as the organization and the spirituality we follow. They replace Christian with Christ follower, trying to call back to a more simple Gospel, untainted by church politics or bickering creeds.

But this is our religion: to be passionately in love with Jesus, and passionate in our support of the poor. “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness…I charge you before God…to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What is the commandment? Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. We are Catholic and we believe.

We should not be normal, Jesus isn’t normal. Jesus was the Son of God, and we want to be like that we can hardly help raising eyebrows. We should be weird, because people will think we are strange, talking to and touching the poor. Our friends will think we are going overboard when we volunteer all weekend, or wasting money when we tithe away our income to the St. Vincent de Paul. At best, they will say what a good thing we are doing, and box us away as “Saint Mary” or “Saint Tim.” It will be something that we do because we are strange and our goodness will become a fault that our friends overlook because they can’t understand that we give our lives to everything but ourselves. But every one who loses their life will gain it.

We are Catholic and we remember who we follow, a man who spent his ministry among the poor and rejected, who did not come to found churches but disciples who would follow God.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/091910.shtml

Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor! Praise Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all!

These are not separate ideas, though we tend to think so. We come to church and learn about salvation, that Christ died for sinners so all might be saved. But whom do we see when we look around in church? Where are the poor who stand equal with us in salvation? It is shameful that so often our churches are divided not by geography, but by economics.

Time after time Jesus exhorts his disciples to take care of the poor. Feed my sheep. What you have not done for the least of my brothers, you have not done for me. Go, sell all you have and give it to the poor. As Christians, we have a special obligation to minister to the poor as the vanguard of our faith. Without works our faith is dead.

The Gospel seems strange because Jesus lifts up the dishonest steward. But the point is that the steward knew his wealth and status would not last, so he acted prudently with the wealth he possessed at the time, forgiving his master’s debts ensuring he would be welcomed by his master’s debtors. We are in the same position. We know that we will die and lose the wealth and status we enjoy on earth. But if we were prudent like the steward, we would use our wealth to take care of the poor, and earn favor with God so that we are welcomed into eternal life.

Not to say that God works that way, but it would be the prudent thing to do. True wealth is one of the themes of Luke. There is no honesty or glory in earthly splendor, for how can there be glory when fellow Christians are oppressed and marginalized? Wealth creates injustice, and we worship a God who “raises up the lowly from the dust;/ from the dunghill he lifts up the poor/ to seat them with princes,/ with the princes of his own people.” This isn’t prophecy for the end times, but a mission we are called to partner with God in now.

Those in power have a special responsibility to those who are not. The first reading condemns the vendors who use their power to cheat the poor, and the second reading asks us to pray for those in authority that they may keep the peace. This thing, to keep the vulnerable from exploitation and violence, is our responsibility.

The early Christians were not capitalists, nor even socialists. They lived in a small community and shared everything between themselves. They were a community. The disciples knew and taught that to follow Christ meant placing ourselves on an equal footing with all other believers, even seeking to be the servant of everyone else. The concept of nations, democracy, politics, democrats, kings, patriotism, laws…these are not sacred to God.

In God, there is one nation set apart, the priesthood of all believers. There is only one King, one set of laws which He did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

We are called to be in this world and not of it, and our allegiance is given to none but God first and the people He has given to us to care for. Our politics are those of the poor, and we should defend neither corporation, nor country, nor authority before we defend the exploited, the downtrodden, and the vulnerable.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/091210.shtml

God will forgive us.

Incredible but true, no matter how much we can’t believe it, His mercy is ours for the asking. The story of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar Gospel readings, and because of that it is one of the easiest to dismiss. We know the son is sinful, and is forgiven because the father is so happy to see him return. We understand that God’s love is infinite, that His forgiveness is there for the asking, etc, etc.

But God really will forgive us.

The story of the prodigal son is always relevant to our hearts. Sometimes we feel like the older son, and want rewards for being “good Christians.” But much, much more often we feel like the younger son sitting in the mud, hungry and wanting to come home. The hardest part is having to ask for forgiveness, whether it is due to pride, shame, fear, or despair.

But God forgives us.

The Lord has made us a promise, that those who believe in him will inherit eternal life. In return He has demanded everything and every day we try to hold something back; but He has created us for salvation. God did not destroy the Israelites because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and just so He will not destroy us.

This is the Good News: that our sins can be washed away. “A clean heart create for me, O God,/ and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” There are new beginnings. We cannot believe in a God who will always forgive us, because we cannot always forgive others. But here is the victory of salvation, that we will become like the God we worship, and become the city on the hill where the Lord “forgives us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

This week, let us acknowledge who we are. We are sinners, but also sons and daughters who have a home where forgiveness is cheap, because the love between us and our Father is priceless. Our God is He who rejoices during the Sacrament of Reconciliation because that is what is! We as Catholics have learned that confession is serious, and penance must be made with a reverence both severe and respectful to God. But if we truly listened to the gospel, instead of confessing that we had gotten drunk “partying” the night before, we would leave the confessional with a new resolve for jubilee!

We are a backwards and stiff-necked people. We worship the God who turned water into wine, who transforms our earthly lives into ones of Heaven. Let us not fear but anticipate confessing our sins, and be transformed from a sinner in mud to a child feasting at our Lord’s table.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/090510.shtml

The readings today are complex, and offer a conclusion we are familiar with but not in the usual way. What we should take away is this: without God, our lives lack meaning and true purpose, and unless we trust God alone we are not truly His people. It is important that in the readings today Paul renounces slavery, but it is interesting why he does it. To set this up, let’s build ideas upon each other from the readings.

The Psalm presents a theme easily familiar. “You make an end of them in their sleep;/ the next morning they are like the changing grass…Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,/ that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.” One day God will mark an end to our lives. Because of death, we need a way to give meaning to our lives. Living according to the Word of God is that meaning.

But the first reading asks “Who can know God’s counsel?” If our faith was one of mystery, then we could not know. But God has sent His Holy Spirit from on high, when Jesus Christ lived and died for our sins. In his actions and his teachings Jesus gave us wisdom to live aright.

Jesus teaches today that “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This from the man who said “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The key is in one of the symptoms of hate: those we hate, we have no dealings with. We refuse to rely on them, and will suffer endlessly to avoid being lowered in their eyes. It is in this vein that Jesus teaches us to “hate” others.

In the gospel, Jesus knows he will have to die and leave his disciples to carry out God’s Word. If they really on others to do the work, if they ignore God’s calling because they believe someone else will take up the slack, they cannot be members of the kingdom. God knows our hearts; we know that the world cannot make us happy, only God can give us peace of spirit and joy of heart. We must rely on Him completely for that, and give ourselves wholly to Him. Which is terrifying.

It is easy to use others as a crutch, to live lives they would set out for us. But we must “hate” them, and turn our faces from their expectations. God has a plan for us, and to ignore that plan is to turn away from God. In doing that, we cannot be God’s disciples. It is not enough to be “good.” The kingdom of God can only be made manifest through us, it requires each of us to say yes to Him completely to be present in the world. We must be strong enough, and weak enough to rely on God in our lives.

This is why Paul sends the slave Onesimus back to Philemon. He was becoming a crutch, not only for Paul in comfort but for Philemon. For Onesimus let Philemon feel like he was doing good in supporting Paul, but keeping Onesimus as a slave wasn’t enough in God’s plan. Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a brother, encouraging him to rely on God totally, and bear in his own person God’s plan. God has called each one of us by name; we must be willing to take up our own cross. Onesimus cannot be proxy for Philemon.

It is scary to follow God. He demands nothing less than everything. But God has everything to offer, because the man who loses his own life shall gain it. We cannot let fear keep us from God, instead we must hate the things that keep Him at arms length. Whether those things are family or wealth, reputation or comfort, we must detest everything which will not let us take up our own cross, and follow God.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/082910.shtml

Welcome home.

The Church is our home. God, in His goodness, has made a home for his poor. The psalm mentions orphans, and widows, the forsaken and the prisoners, and it literally means that for each of these God has made a home; but we should not fail to recognize ourselves among them. We are all needy, and have all come to be healed.

The readings today warn against the pride that comes from forgetting that. Yes, in the words of St. Paul we have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, in becoming part of His body. And we celebrate with the angels every Sunday a mystery which still awes us two millennium after it happened. But sometimes we become too familiar with what we have been given. We assume that we are wiser in God than our brothers and sisters, or pride ourselves in the extremity of our devotion. Or in studying the Scripture we become fixed on the meanings we have divined and close our ears to anything else. It happens.

But it does not matter how much we have to give, if we do not have the spirit in which to give it. Jesus cautions us to cultivate a humility beginning with smallness. It is sometimes hard to hear the words “What is too sublime for you, seek not,/ into things beyond your strength search not.” We, especially as Americans, grow up thinking that everything is within our reach if we want it and work for it. But Christianity is not like that. Everything begins in faith where one has nothing, not even the certainty of God. In faith, we grow depending on the wisdom God plants in us, and grow more strongly when we work less and listen more.

It is not an insult for us to be told not to seek into things beyond our strength. It is a waiting, where the victory we have won expands within us, and we rejoice in the Lord not because we are saved, but because He is God. It is not easy; it takes a long time to change our hearts. But God calls to the Holy Spirit inside us steadily and unceasingly, like waves on a shore.

In humility, we are always the needy ones. We take the lowest place because others merit it more. When Jesus enjoins us to throw a banquet and invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” we can do so because even in our abundance we recognize our poverty before God, and recognize the blessedness within the poor of our world.

Some of those called last shall be first, and those called first shall be last. In humility we recognize what we lack, and wait in our soul for God to make up what is lacking. In our poor humility, we share our abundance of food, knowledge, wisdom, and strength, knowing how little it is. But we do so with joy because of the God who became poor with us, whose blood upon the cross teaches us how to walk humbly with God more eloquently than ten thousand words.