Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(September 28, 2008) Mt. 21: 28-32
“When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” (Ezekiel 18: 25-28)
The first son spoken of in today’s Gospel selection for this Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time was asked by his father to go out into the vineyard and work. He said “no” to his father’s request but afterwards he changed his mind and went into the vineyard and worked. Undoubtedly this son wasn’t ordinarily one who did what his father wanted him to do or asked him to do. He was really into doing his own thing. But lo and behold, a change came over him. He actually did what his father wanted him to do and went to work in the vineyard. We could actually clap our hands here for that son!
Our Gospel for this Sunday is about changing, about repenting. This is one of those basics we spoke of a while back. If we are off on the wrong track and do not repent, convert and make that U turn we have spoken of so often, we are not going to change. Repentance is necessary for change. This was the message of St. John the Baptist and it is the oft-repeated message of Jesus himself.
Believe it or not, change is possible. I am not saying that it is always going to be easy, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. And that is really good news! There are some things I can change by myself. For example, I can walk over to the TV set and change the channel. I can change by myself the kind of cereal I eat for breakfast, the kind of car I am going to buy and many other things along these lines. But there are some things in life that I am powerless over and these I cannot change alone. For example, I am powerless over addictions such as alcoholism, gambling, smoking and overeating. I am powerless over some resentments, the illnesses I have and the fact that I must someday die and leave this world, as well as many other things. And when I am powerless over something, I cannot change it myself. I need God’s help. Then I must come to the realization that God is the Changer and I am the changee.
All of this is made as clear as a bell in Steps 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the Twelve Steps. The First Step tells me I am powerless over alcohol or whatever and my life has become unmanageable. The Second Step says I came to believe that a Power Greater than myself can restore me to sanity or wholeness. Step Six says: We were entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character, and Step 7 reads: We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. It doesn’t say anything in there at all about Howard removing his character defects or shortcomings. Rather, we ask God to change us.
It is good and necessary for us to follow these Steps when we are dealing with habits of sin or what I choose to call “blocks.” This is my new word instead of using the word sin all the time. What is it that is blocking me from a greater and better relationship with God? What is standing in the way? When we discover what these blocks are, we ask God to help us remove them and then it will happen. It does work! I tried for years to quit drinking alone and it only got worse. I humbly asked God to remove this defect and I haven’t had a drop of alcohol for 34 years. Wouldn’t you agree that someone is trying to tell me something?
It is our choice to change or not to change. Like Shakespeare says: To be or not to be. The prostitutes and tax collectors mentioned in today’s Gospel were among the most hated people in Biblical times. But as we read in the Gospel today, they chose to change, to listen to the Lord Jesus, and they entered the Kingdom of God. What blocks do I find in my own life that I would like to be removed?
Monday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(September 29, 2008) Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, God’s Holy Angels. Angels are somewhat mysterious creatures of God that appear periodically throughout the Scriptures both in the Old and New Testaments. They are God’s “angels” or messengers revealing to others God’s plans and carrying out his commands. There are “thousands upon thousands” of them as we read in the Book of the Prophet Daniel (7: 9-10). Only a few of them are named.
We meet Raphael only in the Book of Tobit in the Bible. Raphael accompanies Tobiah, the son of Tobit, on a long journey and gets him back safely to his father. Raphael, incidentally, is also the Patron Saint of Guest House, the alcohol treatment organization for priests and nuns. Gabriel is probably the angel that most of us are acquainted with. It was he who announced the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself. Michael appears in the Book of Revelation (the first reading for today’s Liturgy) as the head of the heavenly army of angels and the conqueror of Satan in the battle of the endtime. We are also aware, I am sure, of our Guardian Angels, whose Memorial we will celebrate on October 2, next Thursday.
Angels of God, help us obey the words of God and listen to his voice.
Tuesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(September 30, 2008) St. Jerome
Some of the Saints honored by the Church were on this earth many, many centuries ago but nevertheless they have made a real difference by what they accomplished then and we are still benefiting from their efforts today. St. Jerome, whom we honor today, is one such Saint.
Jerome was born about the year 342 in Stridonius, a small town on the Adriatic Sea. He died on September 30, 420, and was buried under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Later on, in the 13th century, his body was moved to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
At the request of Pope Damasus, Jerome translated the Scriptures into Latin, commonly referred to as the Vulgate. He also translated and revised the Psalms. And he is responsible for the distinction between the canonical and apocryphal writings, those that appear in the Bible and those that do not. He was a pioneer in Biblical Archeology, wrote many commentaries on the Scriptures, and wrote many letters which are our best sources for the times in which he lived. Every time we pick up our Bibles or hear the Scriptures read, we are indebted to St, Jerome.
St. Jerome, pray for us.
Wednesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(October 1, 2008) St. Theresa of the Child Jesus
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. She was born in Alencon, France, in 1873, and while still just a young girl, she entered the Carmelite Monastery in Lesieux. She died on September 30, 1897, at the young age of 24.
The Gospel for this Memorial of St. Theresa is from Luke 9: 57-62. This Gospel has Jesus preceding on his journey and as he goes he invites different people to follow him. They all have excuses for not doing so right away. One replies to Jesus’ invitation, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Another said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Jesus’ answer to these excuses is the classical response: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Last Sunday we spoke of the “blocks” we place in the way of a better relationship with our God, of following him a bit closer. These blocks make up our excuses. For example, I once said to Jesus in effect, “I’ll follow you, Lord, in twenty years when I get finished drinking.” Others might say, “I’ll follow you, Lord, when I get over my habit of watching pornography on the computer and TV, and on and on and on. Our excuses are blocks to our following Jesus. What blocks are standing in my way today from following the Lord closer?
St. Theresa, pray for us.
Thursday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(October 2, 2008) The Guardian Angels
Last Tuesday we celebrated the Feast of the Angels Raphael, Gabriel and Michael. Today the Memorial of the Guardian Angels makes this topic of angels a little more personal. In the Book of Exodus the Lord says: “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and heed his voice. Do not rebel against him.”
From these words in Scripture has come the beautiful tradition in the Church that God has assigned one of his heavenly creatures to each of us to guide us and lead us in his way and to protect us from evil and harm. What a beautiful tradition this is! I apologize for working my angel overtime. This Memorial always reminds me of a picture in my eighth grade classroom that I have never forgotten. It was a picture of two little children picking flowers high on a narrow mountain road with a severe drop just a few feet away from them. The picture shows a huge angel hovering over them, wings outstretched, protecting them from getting too near the edge and falling. I recently saw a smaller rendition of the same picture in, of all places, a Cracker Barrel restaurant in our neighborhood! I wonder if they would sell it to me if I asked for it?
Guardian Angels, please continue to hover over and protect us all.
Friday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(October 3, 2008) Luke 10: 13-16
In the Gospel selected to be read today, Jesus is speaking to the Seventy-two in a rather long discourse found in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. It is Luke’s accounting of Jesus telling his disciples that he is sending them like lambs among the wolves, to carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals and other details of how they are to travel from one place to another. Toward the end of this discourse, he tells them: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me.”
We are to join in the mission of the Church and indeed we have an important part to play in carrying Jesus’ message to our little corner of the world. We have spoken of this many times before. Can the people we come into contact with everyday tell from our words and actions that we are followers and representatives of Jesus? For me, I am ashamed to say probably not all the time. I am not always as loving, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, serving as I should be. How about you? Jesus, without you we can do nothing. Please continue to help us be you worthy disciples.
Saturday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(October 4, 2008) St. Francis of Assisi
I have been a Solemnly Professed member of the Conventual Franciscan Friars for 55 years. What can I say to you about St. Francis of Assisi, whose Feast we celebrate today and whom I admire so very much? I have studied his life and his words for years and have learned much from his story. In this year’s homily on his Feast day, I would like to share a story with about Francis as it is written by Arnaldo Fortini in his book, “Francis of Assisi”. It is a story that has meant a great deal to me in my life and a story that I try to be constantly aware of. It is a story dealing with the desire of Francis to be a knight. This goal of attaining knighthood was big in Francis’ early life because in doing so he would be someone, and be noticed and honored by others. He failed in his endeavor in the battle at Collastrada and now a battle in Apulia offers him another chance to attain this important goal. He is on his way to this battle when we pick up the story I would like to share with you.
“Now it happened that, after the start for Apulia, Francis felt unwell on arriving at Spoleto; and thinking with apprehension about the journey, he went to bed, but, half asleep, he heard a voice calling and asking him whither he was bound. He replied, telling of his plan. Then he, who had previously appeared to him in sleep, spoke these words:
“Who do you think can best reward you, the Master of the servant? “The Master,” answered Francis. “Then why do you leave the Master for the servant, the rich Lord for the poor man?”
Suddenly, in a great flash that illuminated his soul, Francis understood who it was that had spoken to him. And in an instant much of the old Francis burned away: the turmoil of his ambitious dreams, his greed for marvelous
victories, his mania for military glory, his need to be first, his day-dreaming about unknown roads and unexpected encounters. Biographers say that the miracle of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus had been repeated, that a mortal soul had been caught up in an experience of the divine that sublimated worldly traits into an overwhelming desire to offer himself to God.
The emblem of Francis’ contrada (district) was the sword that had severed the head of the Apostle Paul. Ever since adolescence, in festivals and in dances, in cavalcades and in battles, and in prison, that symbol had been engraved in his heart. Now the blade of the sword had been turned on him, destroying and remaking him for Christ. On earth Jesus had said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To Francis he was to give a new commission: “Love your neighbor more than yourself.” It was a mandate to which Francis would remain faithful all his life.
Francis asked, like Paul, “O Lord, what do you wish me to do?” And the reply was much like the one that Jesus had made to Paul: “Return to your own place and you will be told what to do.” Francis did not sleep any more that night. When the first light filtered into the room, he got up. Dawn was rising on the summit of Monteluco.”
Those words of Francis, “Lord, what do you wish me to do?” were words of complete surrender. Now it was no longer all about Francis. Now it was all about what the Lord would have him do. Those words of surrender are why this story is important to me. Once my life was all about me just as Francis’ life had been all about Francis. Maybe this is true of all of us. We have to learn somehow to turn from this selfishness and turn our lives over to the Lord. Only then do things really begin to make sense and only then are our lives happy, peaceful and serene.
A HAPPY AND HOLY ST. FRANCIS DAY TO YOU ALL.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.