Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Perhaps some of you are familiar with an ad that I see rather often on TV. It shows a man walking down the sidewalk carrying a board of numbers showing a cut-out of an amount of dollars, for example $1,560,000.00. There is another man up on a ladder trimming his hedge. Above the hedge is a sign reading “Gazillion”. The man trimming the hedge asks the other fellow what his numbers signify and is told they tell the amount he will get from his financial plan when he retires. Then the fellow with the board asks the one trimming the hedge what “gazillion” means. He says it is just a “guesstimate” and that he really has no financial plan.
Our Gospel for today seems to indicate we should have a plan for getting into the Kingdom of God. In our Gospel, Jesus tell us: “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”. This is the first part of a plan. Then Jesus tells us: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”. Sounds like more of the plan.
Then it really gets rolling: “Whichever of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” And then a final thought: “Or what king marching into war wouldn’t first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?” We can very easily paraphrase these last two quotations by saying: “Who would think of entering the Kingdom of God without first formulizing a plan to do so?
And so we ask, is there a plan that will assure us of getting into God’s Kingdom? The answer, of course, is that there are many such plans, some of which are given to us by Jesus in the Gospels and Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testaments. All the prophets give a plan through which we can enter the Kingdom of God. Then we are told that he/she who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have life everlasting. The scholar asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life and Jesus tells him to go sell what he has, give it to the poor and come follow me. In another place we read the plan involves loving God with all of our mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. God himself gives Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Surely these are a plan for entering the Kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount and on the Plain are plans for entering the Kingdom. And there are many more, I’m sure, in the Scriptures that I could mention.
There are also plans for entering the Kingdom outside of and yet related to the Scriptures. The 12 Steps of Spirituality used by AA and hundreds of other groups is a plan for living a good life and entering the Kingdom. The various principles of the Steps are plans in themselves, such as admitting our powerlessness, surrender, inventory, confession, making amends, prayer, meditation, etc. The Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Rules of St. Francis and St. Augustine, etc. all are plans for entering the Kingdom.
So, carry your board around for others to see that spells out the “Way To The Kingdom”. Just don’t be like the man sporting the sign “Gazillion”, who has no plan.
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
There is an old story about Jesus appearing to an old monk and talking with him. While they are speaking, some poor people ring the bell at the monastery for something to eat. The monk left Jesus and went to tend to the people. When he finished, he found Jesus still there waiting to talk some more. And Jesus said to him, “If you had not gone to tend the poor, I would not have been here when you returned”.
In this story and the corresponding Gospel for today’s liturgy, we see a priority system being set up by Jesus. It is better to help the poor and needy than to take time to pray and talk to God. I think when we pay attention to others, we are also praying. In community with the needy we also communicate with God. Both priorities are taken care of at the same time.
Tuesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel sets up another priority all of us should pay attention to. When starting or beginning some important task, pray first, asking for God’s help in doing it. Good advice, and advice given to us by Jesus often in the Gospels. You can always tell when something big is going to happen; Jesus goes off alone to pray. Today’s Gospel tells of two such important things: choosing the Twelve and the Sermon on the Plains.
I try to pause for a moment of prayer when I sit down to write these homilies, and I’m sure God hears me and speaks through me from time to time. I do the same before preaching. What are some rather usual but important things you do that would be good to begin with prayer?
Wednesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
September 8, 2010 Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Today the Church celebrates the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Gospel from Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus and my Commentary to the Scriptures indicates that this genealogy functions not as a historical record, but rather as a way to place Jesus in relation to the memorable characters in Jewish history. Among the various names are four women. Their stories prepare us for the extraordinary circumstances of Jesus’ birth also mentioned in Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and have a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us””. The Gospel opens with the words: “The Book of the genealogy” which is Greek = “Biblios Geneseos” = “account of birth” or “books of origins”. Jesus is CHRISTOS = “messiah”, = “anointed” of God.
The feast we celebrated today of the Birth of Mary has been celebrated since the 6thCentury, where we find a hymn written for the feast by St. Romanos the Melodist. This ancient hymn begins with the following words: “Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being. The refrain was “A new born Babe, the pre-eternal God.”
The source for this story of the Birth of Mary is found in an apocryphal Gospel by James written c.150. This also informs us that her parents were Joachim and Anna. There is also an apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary that gives the same details.
The date of this Feast is September 8, nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It is an important feast because it prepares the way for the birth of Christ.
Thursday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 6: 27-38
Luke 6:20-49 makes up St. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, corresponding to St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Plain is customarily divided into four sections: the Beatitudes, the exhortations, the analogy of trees and fruit, and the parable of the two houses, one built on solid rock, the other on sand.
Let’s focus on Jesus’ words in verse 37: “Stop judging and you will not be judged”. This is not a prohibition against recognizing the faults of others, but rather against having judgment in a spirit of arrogance or self-righteousness and forgetting one’s own faults. It is OK to recognize faults in another and to have my faults recognized by others. It is also OK to correct another when they act in a faulty way – but not necessarily with a judgment. Judging another usually leads to counter-judgments or a battle of words and name-calling.
This same thing can be accomplished harmlessly with the old Marriage Encounter technique of communicating feelings. It’s OK to say to someone, “When you do that, it makes me feel uncomfortable, angry, and disappointed”. However, after you’ve said that, Shut up! If you keep going, chances are you’ll get into judgments. Let the other person respond to your feelings. It does work and it is a good way to communicate.
Friday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel is still within the Sermon on the Plain and offers a multitude of reflections. This particular Gospel always reminds me of the often-heard AA expression: Take you own inventory. The word “inventory” is found in the 4th and 10th Steps, which encourage us to take a searching and fearless moral look at ourselves, even asking: “What’s wrong with me!?” Not, “What’s wrong with my parents, brothers, sisters or friends?” The Gospel reminds us to look for and remove the plank or beam in my own eye before worrying about the speck or splinter in another’s eye.
Inventory is a spiritual principle. It is sometimes regarded to be an examen or examination of conscience. Doing this is good for finding out who I am, where I am, why I’m here and where I’m going. It helps to set up a direction for my life and goals. If you are not into this daily, try it. It makes for a nice time of prayer before retiring at night.
How was my day, what did I do well, what was wrong, how can I improve tomorrow? And, by the way, God, thanks for today.
Saturday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel winds up the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke. Both the parable of the tree and its fruit and the story of the two houses, one built on sand and the other on solid rock, urge us to follow Jesus with care, determination and with full desire or willingness. AA sums this same thing up with HOW: Honesty, Openness and Willingness. If we proceed thusly in our daily lives, we will be good disciples of the Lord and keep our noses to the proverbial grindstones. This is really what it means to build our house on rock on a solid foundation so that even the small whims of life are unable to wash it away.
We don’t have to remember too much to make Jesus Numero Uno in our lives, and it is worth it when we do.