Homilies - October 2011

Select a homily to read:
Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year: October 9, 2011 by Fr. Hilary
Thirty First Sunday of the Year: October 30, 2011 by Fr. Boniface
Monday of the Thirty First Week of the Year: October 31, 2011 by Fr. Joseph

Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year

What is to be thought of the always uncertain future? There is, I think, a remarkable contrast between our first reading, with its responsorial psalm, and the Gospel. In the first reading Isaiah prophesies that “the Lord will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines,” and many other good things, to “the wiping away of all tears from every face.”

The beautiful psalm 23 responds, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”. We can call this a personal, individual prayer: “I fear no evil,” ”you anoint my head with oil”. Yet there is a more universal note in the words, “Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.” We see here an example of a kind of waltz of individual and communal concerns in the psalms. Especially this “kindness” is something much more than being nice to an individual, for it is God’s steadfast love for the People with whom God has covenanted. Our celebration of the Eucharist is always a celebration of that covenant, as transformed by the Lord Jesus.

How different in tone is today’s Gospel. Matthew gives us this story toward the end of Jesus’ public ministry. The “kingdom of heaven” is likened to the story of a king who gives a wedding feast for his son. An odd development: those invited refused to come, even at a second invitation.

Some do violence to the messengers. The king becomes enraged, sends troops --this is the middle east, remember, --- to destroy the murderers and burn their city. In a final development, the king, while greeting the guests, “sees a man there without a wedding garment.” How is this, he asks the man. Hearing no answer he has him bound and cast “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

What does the story teach? The commentator Fr. Daniel Harrington, SJ, says, “The parable of the wedding feast is an outline of salvation history from a Christian perspective. It helped to explain the mixed reception of the gospel.” That is, the Jewish leaders refused the invitation, and some even did violence to those who preached the gospel.1

If it’s true that the Gospel of Matthew was written toward the end of the first century, the burning of the cities by the king’s enemies may well refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year of Our Lord 70. But what is the lesson for us? “Like a wedding feast:” A most joyful event, despite the dark elements of the story. We look forward in hope to that moment beyond time, when God’s steadfast love will be most fully experienced.

1: Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, The Gospel of Matthew, The Liturgical Press 1991, 308

Fr. Hilary Hayden
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Thirty First Sunday of the Year

He emptied himself and took the form of a slave (Philippians 2.7)

After his conversion to Christ, Japanese social reformer Toyohiko Kagawa gave up his comfortable home and went to live in the slums of Kobe. There he shared himself with the needy. He gave away all his clothing, keeping only a tattered kimono. On one occasion, even though sick, he preached to people in the rain, repeating over and over, "God is love! God is love! Where love is, there is God.” 1 Tattered clothing versus long tassels, living in the slums in contrast to marks of honor and recognition, and giving away himself instead of self aggrandizement were the marks of this disciple of Christ who emptied himself in the manner of Christ himself.

Again and again the Scriptures call us to the following of Christ in the way of humility, honesty and the self emptying love of God and our neighbor. In our first reading, the prophet Malachi denounces the priests for their impious ways as well as neglecting to instruct the people they were called to serve and so lead them into sin. Temple worship had become meaningless. In other passages of Malachi, the prophet echoes God’s indignation at the sight of a degenerate worship. The people together with their priests offered in sacrifice what was useless: sick or even stolen animals, food fit for nothing else but to be thrown away. The priests and people alike did not take God seriously.2 They would not have treated a royal official in this way. The attitude of the priests and the visible decline of the cultic worship were outward signs of the decay and corruption in the hearts of the worshiping community. Idolatry, adultery, injustice, and unrighteousness were the fruit of their alienation from God.

In the Gospel, Jesus did not attack the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. They occupied the chair of Moses, that is they have the authority due them as leaders. Jesus attacked them for their hypocrisy. The display of their piety was not directed to the glory of God but to underline their own importance and worth, to increase their social status. They lived completely in the world of externals (widened phylacteries, long fringes and prayers) and neglected the inner world where the love of God and of neighbor arises and develops. In place of the love of God and neighbor, they loved themselves and the honor they received.

True worship means total self giving to God and neighbor, giving God the glory. As foundational to the Christian life, St. Paul told the Romans: “Love one another with the affection of brothers. Anticipate each other in showing respect…Look on the needs of the saints as your own, be generous in offering hospitality…Rejoice with those that rejoice, weep with those that weep. Have the same attitude towards all. Put away ambitious thoughts and associate with those who are lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom 12: 9-16). This rule of Christian life meant for both leaders and members of the community will be found again later in the famous chapter 72 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

In contradistinction to the priests the prophet Malachi chastised, and the hypocritical leaders Jesus confronted, St. Paul gave us another, a different manner of leadership drawn from his own experience. He was aware that he had to live the gospel he preached. Failure to do so would drive away the very ones he tried to win for Christ. We can see the unfortunate results of such a failure in the recent scandals within the church. The saints who mirror Christ will, on the other hand draw others to Christ. St. Paul’s attitude towards the members of his communities was not superior and authoritarian, but that of a tender, caring mother. He was indeed a leader of the community, but like any body there is a necessity of a variety of ministries for the good order and health of the body. He, as well as the other apostles lived out their message by sharing their life in dedication and service to a people they dearly loved. In addition, St, Paul was self supporting so as not to be a burden to the people he served.3

Today’s warnings have special relevance to those who exercise the ministry of authority in the church. But the Word addressed to the community today is for all of us. The reading from Malachi has been selected in order to shock us awake from any routine formalism in our worship, a constant danger, or to give the lie to our worship by our actions.4 We are called to remember the humility with which we are to approach God and a service which continually goes out to others. Jesus challenged hypocrisy in the leaders of his day and I dare say we often enough detect in ourselves that our faith, our words, and our actions do not always match up. But as long as we are honest, emptying ourselves before God and keep struggling to follow the path Christ has walked ahead of us, his grace, and his presence will be there to transform us. “And may he bring us all together to everlasting life” (RB 72: 11).

Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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1 Mark Link, Challenge 2000 (Allen, Tx, Taylor Publications, 1993) 384.
2 Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, volume 4 (Collegeville, Minn, The Liturgical Press, 1992) 236
3 Roland J.. Faley, Footsteps on the Mountain (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1994) 699
4 Days of the Lord, 237-238

Monday of the Thirty First Week of the Year

In the section of Romans we have been reading, i.e., chapters 9-11, St. Paul is dealing with the problem of Israel vis-a-vis Christianity. For him it is a problem both theologically and emotionally. Theologically because the Jews were the chosen people, the people to whom the promises had been made, going all the way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the people in which the line of David is found; the line from which the Messiah should come, the people from whom came the prophets who had generated all the wonderful messianic hope. How could it be that once all this had come to pass, they should not recognize it? And it was an emotional problem, too, because he loved his people dearly and found it difficult to see them cut off from the line of grace.

"Supersessionism" is a dirty word, an accusatory word by those who employ it, implying that Judaism has been superseded by Christianity, which now takes its place. It is difficult to deny that there are supersessionist elements in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Temple is simply a copy and a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, a new priesthood of Melchisedek, which has nothing to do with Levi, the bloody sacrifices of the law are ineffectual, and when Jeremiah speaks of a "new" covenant, he declares the first one obsolete; conclusion: what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.

St. Paul's approach is certainly different. He explains the conversion of the gentiles as foreseen by the prophets and as illustrating the centrality of faith. God has not rejected His people; at least a remnant of them have already entered in (gives himself as an example, as certainly would be all the earliest Christians) and in some mysterious way Israel's hardening has left the way open for the conversion of the gentiles, but when their number is complete, then Paul expects the conversion of Israel; as he says in one place: "if their diminished number is enrichment for the gentiles, how much more their full number?" and again a little later, "a hardening has come upon Israel in part until the full number of the gentiles comes in, and thus all Israel will be saved."

Some years ago the Pontifical Biblical Commission put out a document entitled "The Jewish People and their Scriptures" that is relevant here. It holds that the Jews cannot be accused of stubbornness for not reading the Old Testament as we do, that it is only the unfolding of events that allows us to see the Christological meaning, which is otherwise not obviously contained in the text. It says the promises remain and five times quotes the passage St. Paul uses today, "God's gifts and call are irrevocable" (used also in last Saturday's first reading).

Certainly we have a seen great progress in Jewish-Christian relations in our lifetime. In the earliest years of the Church the Jews in power tried to suppress it; later, with Christians in control, they paid them back with interest, and there has been much anti-Semitism through the centuries, shameful persecutions. This is certainly not a way to conversion. Let us truly to build on the progress we have made, practice true love toward all, and leave it to God to carry out His mysterious designs.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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