Sunday, October 27, 2013

Homily - 31st Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

31st Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Wisdom 11:22-12:2        Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2        Gospel Reading: Luke 19:1-10

There is a story told about a local fitness center, which was offering $1000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here's how it worked. The muscle man would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass and then hand the lemon to the next challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the money. Many people tried over time – weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but nobody could do it.
One day a short skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. He clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short skinny guy, what did he do for living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?” He asked. The man smilingly replied, “I work for the IRS.”
Today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke also focuses on a high ranking IRS man – Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector of Jericho – his encounter with Jesus and his conversion.

Today is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday's Scripture Readings speak about God’s love and mercy for everyone. The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom describes how God´s love for what He has created becomes a redemptive love through His mercy. God loves His creation and because of this love He pardons and is patient with people who have gone astray, so that they might repent. The Gospel Reading of today tells us that the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost. Here we have the beautiful story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector of Jericho - a real-life example of the lost sheep being brought back to the fold. The Second Reading from St. Paul's 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians tells the community to place its trust in the Lord and rely on His love and mercy. St. Paul wants them to endure their circumstances patiently and to stop worrying about tomorrow, especially those rumors about the end-time.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of the infinite mercy of God for all the things that He has created. It begins by saying that we are very insignificant in the whole universe – we are like a grain or a drop of dew – but despite our insignificance in relation to everything, we are totally loved by God. He made all things and loves all things made. Far from making us and the rest of our world feel small and insignificant, we are reminded of our own dignity and of the great value of everything God has made. For what God hated, He would not have fashioned! He is the lover of life Who conserves His own creation in a spirit of mercy. If God didn’t think about us, we wouldn’t exist, so we know He is thinking about us, and even if we sin against Him, forget Him, He never forgets us or stops forgiving us. He is a lover of souls; a God who cares for us, a God of unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness and unconditional acceptance. This God, the author says, can be found everywhere: in the beauty of nature, in the changes of the seasons and in people. This passage from the Book of Wisdom is a magnificent prayer to absolutely transcendent God, in serving whom true wisdom is found.

In the Gospel Reading of today we have another example of Jesus’ interests in the conversion of sinners. The story opens with Jesus entering Jericho and passing through the town. Jericho is a city lying just to the north-east of Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel describes Jesus’ public life as beginning in Nazareth in the north, where he grew up and where he made his ‘mission statement’ before setting out on his life of teaching and healing. His mission brought him in a relatively straight line in a southerly direction to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the focal point and the goal of his life’s work. There he will be arrested, tried, suffer and die and then rise in glory. So, Jericho is the last stage on this journey to Jerusalem and, in fact, before the end of this Chapter 19 he will make his triumphant and final entry into the city on what we call the Palm Sunday.
a) “Zacchaeus - The chief tax-collector”:
Next we are told that there was a man in the city called Zacchaeus. St. Luke says that he was 'a chief tax-collector' and - he adds rather superfluously - 'a wealthy man.' Describing Zacchaeus as a chief tax-collector said just one thing to everyone: he was a detestable creep. As a tax-collector, he worked for Rome and was considered a traitor and a public sinner by the Jewish people, and they hated him. He cheated not only on his return, but everyone else's. He had figured out a way to skim some money off the top and squeeze the last drop from peoples' wallets. Moreover, being a boss himself, no doubt Zacchaeus also took a little off the top from each of his tax-collectors and thus the source of his wealth.
Now, often in the Gospel stories the names can be a clue to understanding and the same is the case here. The name 'Zacchaeus' actually means ‘righteous one' (pure); but he led a 'sinful' (impure) life. Clearly, Zacchaeus in the Gospel never lived like 'Zacchaeus.' That is to say that he did not live according to his name.
Moreover, we are also told that Zacchaeus was a wee little man - 'a man of short stature.' Being a tax-collector he was a public sinner which made him of low moral standard, i.e. he was small from spiritual point of view as well. He had to grow both physically and spiritually; he had to be transformed from a 'sinful' person to a 'righteous one.'
b) “He was seeking to see Jesus.”
Further we are told that Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus. We are not at first given the reason. Was it just curiosity towards a person about whom he had heard so many stories? Or was there a deeper reason? Jesus is on the campaign trail passing through Jericho, the crowds engulfing him. Zacchaeus comes along desperate to see Jesus but he is shut out by the crowd; being 'small of stature' he even finds it impossible to see over their heads. Zacchaeus, rather than give up, runs ahead to find a way of seeing Jesus and so ends up perched on a sycamore tree, without caring what others would say. Notice the determination of Zacchaeus. His view of Jesus was obstructed, but that didn’t stop him from seeing Jesus. He had an obstacle (the crowd) and a handicap (his short stature), but he refused to allow any of these to prevent him from reaching his goal of getting a clear view of Jesus.
c) “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
In was under these improbable circumstances that the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus took place. Imagine Zacchaeus’ surprise when suddenly Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for I must stay at your house today.” The poor man must almost had fallen from the tree with shock. Did he hear Jesus correctly? And what wonderful words those were! All he had wanted was to see this man Jesus; what he got is a gift far greater than his wildest dreams. Like all true seekers Zacchaeus got more than he bargained for. So the surprised and thrilled Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus into his house. What began as curiosity flowered into a joyful homecoming, as Zacchaeus found himself to have been already seen, known and understood. Instead of being a spectator on the fringes Zacchaeus now finds himself at the center of events with Jesus. It is a good example of someone who comes looking for something only to discover something altogether more wonderful.
The reaction of the crowd, however, is something else. They are deeply shocked and scandalized. "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of possibly the most obnoxious and detested person in the town.
d) “Today salvation has come to this house...”
Zacchaeus was very happy about this turn of events. Upon welcoming Jesus to his house, he said in his joy, “Lord, I shall give to the poor half of my possessions, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” This implies that Zacchaeus, because of his encounter with Jesus, had undergone a radical conversion. The tax collector voluntarily gave away his wealth. He taxed himself. The short man became tall in God’s eyes.
Now, the extraordinary thing is that Zacchaeus repented without any word of rebuke from Jesus. All Jesus asked was that Zacchaeus come down from the tree so that he could get things ready for him to stay. It was not that Zacchaeus was looking at Jesus: rather it was that Jesus was looking at Zacchaeus and that gaze, the gaze of God's love, transformed Zacchaeus, because Jesus recognized him and appealed to what was best in him.
But the climax of the whole story appears to be the announcement by Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house …” Firstly, this could mean simply that Jesus himself is the salvation that has come into Zacchaeus’ house through his own invitation. Secondly, however, is that the divine mercy has been clearly manifested. This meant that Zacchaeus’ sins had been forgiven, for, even though they had not been specified, the supposition throughout is that he was a sinner. Moreover, Jesus did not say that salvation had come to him alone, but rather to his entire household. It is because the household shared in Zacchaeus’ blessing as they had previously suffered in his unjust practices.
e) “Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Jesus finally concludes by saying, "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost" - the lost include those regarded as sinners and those who are marginalized by so-called respectable society. Zacchaeus is one such example where God welcomes back a sinner. He desired to see who Jesus was – but actually, it was Jesus who looked for him. Jesus knocked the door of Zacchaeus and he opened the door for him. Jesus transformed his life. It also means that Jesus loves those who we see as bad sinners, and is the one who can judge their motives and their inner hearts. This acceptance by Jesus often brought people to repentance and salvation and forgiveness.

In the Second Reading of today, St. Paul writes to encourage the Christians in Thessalonica. The Thessalonians are assured that they haven't missed anything. All their good works and faith have not been worthless. Jesus will be glorified in them! It is by walking in sound doctrines, by permitting the Spirit of Christ to guide and teach us in all truth, that the Name of the Lord Jesus is glorified in every individual. Having encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere in their faith, and thus give glory to God relying totally in His love and mercy, St. Paul then tells them to stop worrying about tomorrow, especially those rumors about the end-time, viz. 'the Day of the Lord,' when God would bring final punishment to the wicked and reward to the good. Paul himself had used this notion in winning converts. But there were some in Thessalonica who took the idea too literally. They thought that the end of the world was imminent. Some even quit their jobs to wait. This gained Paul's followers a reputation for laziness. Fanatics even claimed to have received angelic messages, warning of the approaching 'the Day of the Lord.' Paul tells them not to be deceived by false teachers lest they become disturbed in spirit. The Apostle thus writes to discourage false anxieties.

To conclude, all the there Scripture Readings of today emphasize the fact that - God is gracious and merciful; He is good to all, and compassionate to everything He has made. In the Gospel Reading we are given the example of Zacchaeus as a proof of this. Zacchaeus is a model for us. We have one thing in common with Zacchaeus: like him, we are all sinners and therefore are in need of salvation. Salvation means the total rehabilitation of formerly sinful man. We all also have a short stature like Zaccheus, trying to see Jesus from a distance, and therefore we need to grow tall spiritually. So like Zacchaeus let us begin “seeking to see who Jesus was.” And like Zacchaeus, we will also be given the opportunity for repentance in an atmosphere of acceptance. For after all, Jesus' mission is “to save what was lost.”
Now, the Zacchaeus story is a delight to read. This story is a paradigm of the process of discipleship: seeking, meeting, undergoing conversion, and following. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He knew there was something lacking in his life despite his wealth. He met Jesus under strange circumstances, surrounded by a crowd and he sitting up on a tree. He saw the need to change his life and to do restitution for any injustice he had done and finally he became a disciple of Jesus.
Again, God sees us all the time no matter where we are, no matter how short or tall, how big or small we are. He loves us very much. He will hear our prayers from the treetops or in our bed, from the car or at the dinner table. Wherever we happen to be, God hears us. He will answer our prayers in wondrous ways because - God is gracious and merciful; He is good to all, and compassionate to everything He has made. And this is the Good News of today.


Homily - All Saints Day (Year C)

All Saints Day (Year C)

First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14        Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3         Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:1-12a

After a long illness a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for St. Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. She saw inside a beautiful banquet table. Sitting around it were her parents and all the other people whom she had loved and who died before her.
When St. Peter came by, the woman said to him, “This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?” “You will have to spell a word,” St. Peter told her. “Which word?” the woman asked. “LOVE,” St. Peter said. The woman correctly spelled the word “LOVE” and St. Peter welcomed her into heaven.
About six month later St. Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day. Now, while the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived there. “I'm surprised to see you here,” the woman said, “How have you been?” “Oh! I have been doing pretty well since you died,” her husband told her. “I married the beautiful nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won a lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in, and bought a big mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation and went water skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head and here I am.” Then he asked her, “How do I get in?” “You will have to spell a word,” the woman told him. “Which word?” her husband asked. She replied, “CZECHOSLOVAKIA.”

I suppose all of us do realize that this is no way to get into heaven when we die. However, this humorous story does bring up a most serious question - 'How does a person get into heaven? Who will be there and who will not?'
Today is the 1st November and on this day we solemnly celebrate the great feast of All Saints. It is important to emphasize from the beginning what we mean here by ‘saints.' Normally, we apply the word to people of extraordinary holiness who have been 'canonized' or 'beatified' by the Church. Among them each one has their favorites: St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony, St. Joseph and so on. But today’s feast uses the word in a much wider sense. It refers to all those baptized Christians who have died and are now in heaven with God in glory. It also certainly includes all non-Christians who lived a good life sincerely in accordance with the convictions of their conscience. “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew chosen for today’s feast is interesting. It gives us what we know as 'the Beatitudes' from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. It is, in fact, a Charter for Holiness. When many people think of holiness they think of keeping 'the Ten Commandments' and perhaps some other requirements of the Church like going to Mass on Sundays or fasting during Lent. What we often tend to forget is that the Ten Commandments really belong to the Old Testament and are part of the Jewish law. Of course, they are still valid and Jesus said clearly that he had not come to abolish the Jewish law but to fulfill it.
We might then say that the Beatitudes are an example of that fulfilling. They go far beyond the Ten Commandments in what they expect of a follower of Christ and yet the sad thing is that one hears of relatively few Christians saying that they base their lives on the Beatitudes. When we go to Confession it is the Ten Commandments we normally refer to and not the Beatitudes. And this is sad because it is clear from their position in Matthew’s gospel that the Beatitudes have a central place. The Beatitudes is a compendium, a summary of Jesus' teachings. They are a kind of mission statement saying what kind of person the good Christian will be.

The Gospel says that particularly blessed are: Those who are poor in spirit; those who are gentle; those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst for what is right; those who are merciful; those who are pure in heart; those who make peace; and those who are persecuted in the cause of right.
This is the kind of Christian we are all called to be. It is these qualities which made the saints and which will make saints of us too. They go far beyond what is required by the Ten Commandments. If taken literally, the commandments can be kept and not with great difficulty. Many of them are expressed in the negative, 'You shall NOT…' so we can observe them by doing nothing at all! 'I have not killed anyone… I have not committed adultery… I have not stolen…' Does that make me a saint?
Being a Christian is a lot more than not doing things which are wrong. The Beatitudes are expressed in positive terms. They also express not just actions but attitudes. In a way, they can never be fully observed. No matter how well I try to observe them, I can always go further. They leave no room for smugness, the kind of smugness the Pharisees had in keeping the Law. The Beatitudes are a true and reliable recipe for sainthood. “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

Again, saints are the children of God. “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children,” the Second Reading from the First Letter of St. John reminds us today. Saints are not self-made people. They are people who have responded generously to the love of God showered on them. And the completion of that love is to be invited to share life with God forever in the life to come.
What we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed,” the Reading also says. We do not know and have no way of knowing what that future existence will be like and it does not help very much to speculate. It is better to go along with St. Paul who says that life face to face with God is something totally beyond our comprehension. Let us rather concentrate on the life we are leading now and let it be a good preparation for that future time. “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

Indeed, the First Reading from the book of Revelation presents an apocalyptic vision of those who have died in Christ. They are numbered at '144,000' – a number taken literally by some Christian sects. However, the number is clearly symbolical. It consists of the sacred number 12, squared and multiplied by another complete number, 1,000. It simply represents the total of all those who have died faithful to Christ their Lord. They represent 'every nation, tribe and language' for access to Christ is open to all. They are dressed in white robes with palms in their hands. They are the robes of goodness and integrity. “They are the people who have been through the great trial”. That is they are those who have been through persecution. And paradoxically, “they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb”. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which brings salvation but only to those who have united with him in sharing its effects. Many of them, of course, are martyrs and they have mingled their own blood with that of Jesus. It is a picture of total victory and the end of all the pains and sorrows they endured in this life. “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

Today’s feast is first of all an occasion for great rejoicing and thanksgiving. It is altogether reasonable to think that many of our family, relatives and friends who have gone before us are being celebrated today. We look forward to the day when we, too, can be with them experiencing the same total joy, happiness and peace.
Today is also a day for us to pray to them – both the canonized and the not-canonized – and ask them to pray on our behalf that we may live our lives in faithfulness so that we too may experience the same reward. “LORD, THIS IS THE PEOPLE THAT LONGS TO SEE YOUR FACE!” And this is the Good News of today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily - 30th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

30th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
(The World Mission Sunday)

First Reading: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18       Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18       Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14

In an interview she gave just a few years before she died, Blessed Mother Teresa (of happy memory) told a reporter that she required her Sisters to spend at least one hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer prior to beginning their daily tasks or fieldwork. The reporter asked Mother about HER prayer - after all, readers would surely be interested in knowing how a then living-saint prayed. Mother simply answered. "Each day, I spend this time in front of Jesus in the tabernacle begging him for the grace to stay out of the way of the work of the Holy Spirit." The reporter was shocked. Who would ever believe that someone like Mother Teresa would actually get in the way of God's work? We marvel at Mother Teresa's humility.
Today is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is also 'The World Mission Sunday,' when we salute all those men and women who witness to the Gospel in so many developing countries; and we ask for God’s grace to witness to the Gospel in our homes, workplaces and communities.
Now, prayer has a prominent place in the Christian religious practice. The Liturgy of today discusses some aspects of prayer and its application to life and teaches us something about how we should pray and live. The readings tell us that God listens especially to the sinner and the humble. Often we wonder why God is partial in his dealing with human persons. The First Reading taken from the Book of Sirach tells us that the prayer of the humble man will always be answered and the best prayer is that of willing loyal service. Sirach reminds us that God knows no favorites except towards the poor, the powerless and the oppressed. In his Second Letter to Timothy, we see Paul´s humility expressed in his confidence in God´s presence and action in the face of sufferings and imprisonment. He tells us that our entire life itself is a prayer and we offer to God all we have including our lives. In the Gospel Reading, from Jesus, we learn through 'The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector' that we should approach God in humility when we pray.

Today’s First Reading taken from the Book of Sirach tells us of God’s care for the lowly and their prayer reaches the courts of heaven. Those who serve the Lord can expect the Lord to heed to their prayers. The reading tells us that our prayer life is inevitably connected with the rest of our lives. The Lord is the judge, and within him there is no partiality. He will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. The Lord will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when they pour out their complaints to him. The ear of the Lord is inclined towards the needy, the poor, and those who are abandoned. The prayers of the faithful are pleasing to the Lord and are heard before His Heavenly Throne. But the prayers of the humble touch the Lord and they pierce His Heart until the Most High responds by executing judgment to bring justice to the righteous. Sirach speaks of prayer as an arrow reaching its mark where it remains until God takes note of it. The weak and the humble gain a hearing with God the Almighty. When speaking of humility, it is important to understand the proper meaning of this word. Genuine humility is the middle ground between being arrogant and having a false humility where a person is not proud, nor self- assertive. The Lord calls his people to be humble and tells that true honesty reflects real humility which is pleasing to God.

The Pharisees really get a bad rap in Luke’s Gospel – in fact, in most of the New Testament. Somehow they get cast as the villains in most of the stories they are in. The classic parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector which we hear today is one that is only found in St. Luke’s Gospel, but it is yet another example of negativeness toward the Pharisees.
Through the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus addresses the attitude one should have in prayer. The ordinary interpretation of this parable takes its cue from the opening verse. It is addressed to those who are convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else. In a strange scene, in contrasting the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee with the prayer of the repentant tax-collector, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in humility before God. Jesus again surprises his listeners by showing the tax-collector as an example of faith, rather than the Pharisee. Remember that Pharisees were members of a sect of Judaism active in Jesus' time and highly respected members of the Jewish society. They taught an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses as the basis for Jewish piety. If anyone would be a model for prayer, a Pharisee was a likely candidate. Yet, we see the exact opposite. Jesus offers the tax-collector as a model for prayer. Tax-collectors were the outcast and despised member of the Jewish society, because they were collaborators with the Roman authorities in a system that allowed them to line their own pockets by charging in excess of the defined taxes. Yet, in this parable, Jesus offers the humility of the tax-collector as a model for the prayer of a disciple. The parable reminds us that when we pray, we must remember our need for God in our lives. If we are too full of ourselves, there is too little room for God's grace to work in us.
The Pharisee prays a false prayer of thanksgiving to God. He really just gloats of his own personal achievements by which he believes to be just. He has no need of God to respond to his prayer, since he has no needs outside of what he can provide himself. His 'thanksgiving' goes so far as to express gratitude for not being a worthless lout like the miserable tax collector behind him in the Temple. There is no love of God or of neighbor in his prayer. The tax collector´s prayer, on the other hand, is one of supplication and the sincerity of its expression pierces heaven. He recognizes his indignity and misery before God, and considers himself a sinner. He compares himself to no one, sure that he is the person most in need of God´s grace. He goes away justified, which is to say that God forgives his sins and renews him. The Pharisee saw no need to ask for justification, since he had perfected himself.
Also, while the Pharisee started his prayer “with head unbowed,” the tax-collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” Their posture reminds us of the story of a haughty lawyer who asked an old farmer, “Why don't you hold up your head in the world as I do? I bow my head to no one.” The farmer answered, “Sir, see that field of grain? Only those heads that are empty stand upright. Those that are well-filled bow low.” So first and foremost, we are to approach prayer in a spirit of humility. This the tax-collector did but the Pharisee did not.
The cutting edge of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is Jesus’ astounding conclusion: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The conclusion alone is of interest to us: the tax-collector went home justified. The word is important, the just man is one whom God makes just; he receives God’s favor, not because he is already just, but because in his humility he believes that God can be merciful to him and forgive him his sins. Jesus in the parable did not condemn the Pharisee for his life–style and religious observance; He condemned him for his self-righteous attitude as reflected in his prayer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector....” Obviously, the Pharisee was extolling himself before God. In spite of this many in the audience of Jesus would have expected God’s grace should go to the Pharisee and would have been shocked to hear the justification of the tax-collector. Indeed we are not the judges of who is justified and who is not. Forgiveness and justification are divine gifts which God bestows on his chosen ones. What is expected of us is the submission of the tax-collector and await mercy of God.
So, how are we to pray? First, we approach God with all humility. Then we attribute to Him whatever good we have done, thanking Him for giving us the grace to do so. As to our sins, we are to place ourselves completely in His mercy which is His alone to dispense and which we can never merit. Jesus is teaching us to follow the example of the tax collector in life as well as in our prayer. He wants us to acknowledge that everything we are and have came from God. And if we fall into sin, it is not solely because of human weakness but also because of our failure to run to God for help. One holy person, on seeing someone enslaved by his lust, exclaimed, 'But for the grace of God, there go I.' In other words, we are saved not because of our own merit but because of God's mercy. This is what the Pharisee and we often forget but which the prayer of the tax collector was able to capture. Thus even if He only asked for mercy, he ended up justified before God. With the tax collector as our model, we can begin by making his prayer our own: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then we will not only receive God's mercy; we will also end up justified before Him.

In today’s Second Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy, we find examples of Paul’s humility. Paul knows his nothingness. When he says that the time of his departure has come, he is stating the fact of his proximity of death. His death was imminent and his departure from this life and his return to Christ was certain. He was already in his prison and in chains in Rome. Through his words, he was not seeking pity, nor was he boasting of all he had done in the Holy Name of Jesus. On the other hand he had offered everything he had to God, his money, his scholarship, his work, his time and now his life. Paul now tells them that he has fought the good fight, he has run a good race, and he has kept the faith. Though Paul had Luke with him and he expected Timothy and Mark to come the place of his imprisonment, he feels abandoned much like Jesus. Nevertheless, Paul is very confident that Jesus is with him and will bring him safely to the heavenly kingdom. Comparing his life to that of a race, where a person looks for victory, Paul says that he had persevered and guarded the deposit of faith. The work that he had performed in his life time was not his work but the work of God that was manifested through him by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. Death for him is an act of worship, a libation, an act of freedom and a launching into eternity.

Humility moves God, while pride is repugnant to him. One of the lessons of today’s readings is that “God does indeed hear the cry of the poor” - the humble of heart who truly know that they depend on God for every good thing and that their happiness and success is nothing more than a participation in the perfection of God. In the Eucharist, we see how God, in His majesty chooses to remain with us under the humble appearances of bread and wine, even though nothing of bread or nothing of wine remain in the Eucharist. Christ chose to communicate himself to us under the most basic and humble of means - the one food common to all cultures: bread. And yet, it is no longer bread for us, but the living body of Christ. Our Lord sits in this tabernacle and in tabernacles like it day after day and hour after hour thirsting for our love. He is so humble and pure and so vulnerable for our sake. With a God so humble, how can we not return his humility by learning humility in our own lives, especially in our prayer.
May we thus approach our Lord in humility when we pray - fully recognizing our sinfulness and our inadequacies and our shortcomings and yet fully trusting in His infinite mercy and compassion and desire for our sanctity. An awareness of our sins, too, can help us in our lives to be far more compassionate and understanding towards others in their sinfulness and weakness. In the depths of our sinfulness we must never lose sight of the God who is always standing by, ready to come at our merest signal. We must also realize that all good gifts come from God and our humility requires that we give God credit for them and share them with others. On this Mission Sunday we can thank God for the many gifts with which he has blessed us personally and as a country. But we are reminded that those blessings have been given to us to share with those who have far less than we. As we pray for our country and the missions we ask the grace from God to give us the spirit of humility and sharing so that we bring to people the merciful love of God. And this is the Good News of today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Homily - 29th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

29th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13      Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2      Gospel Reading: Luke 18:1-8


An elderly lady was once asked by a young man who had grown weary in the fight, whether he ought to give up the struggle. "I am beaten every time," he said dolefully. "I feel I must give up."
"Did you ever notice," she replied, smiling into the troubled face before her, "that when the Lord told the discouraged fishermen to cast their nets again, it was right in the same old spot where they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing?" Jesus tested the persistence of his disciples. They obeyed him and the result was astounding – they caught 153 large fishes, so much, that their nets almost tore.

Today is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the dominant theme that pervades in all three of today’s Scripture Readings is persistence in our prayer and in our living faith. Prayer is efficacious - in fact the most effective activity - and therefore, prayer that is constant and persisting is a guarantee of success. The First Reading from the Book of Exodus and from the Gospel from St. Luke confirm this truth by showing Israel´s victory occurring when Moses had his hands raised in prayer and through Jesus´ story of the insistent widow and the unjust judge. In the Second Reading from his Second Letter to Timothy, St Paul exhorts us to persevere in the faith we have received and transmit it faithfully, fulfilling our Christian vocation whether easy or difficult.
In the First Reading of today, the author of Exodus narrates a strange and surprising war story. After their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt, God ordered Moses to lead His people to the Promise Land. During their long march from Egypt to Palestine the Israelites had to go through land controlled by other people. Some of these resisted this invasion. The Israelites had to fight to gain passage. Exodus 17:8–13 tells us of the first of such battles. They are attacked by desert tribes called Amalekites. Moses sent Joshua to do battle while he himself, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, stood on the top of the hill with the staff of God in his hand. There he stood in the traditional stance of prayer, arms raised and palms opened. As long as he kept his hands raised, Israel was winning. But when he lowered his hands for rest, Israel began to lose. After a while, Moses was tired of keeping his hands up in the air. So Aaron and Hur put a stone under Moses so he could sit on it. Then they went on each of his sides, each one holding one of Moses’ hands up until the sun set. Finally, the Israelites won and put their enemies to the sword. What made the Israelites win the battle? Moses at prayer. He did not only pray, he persevered in his prayer - throughout the battle.
Healthy intercessory prayer is really prayer for divine justice; i.e. God’s Will. Moses’ arms were extended in prayer in his plea for a just victory over pagan Gentiles who opposed the freedom pilgrimage of God’s Chosen people. His extended arms were not magical gestures, but a posture of prayerful request.

In the Second Reading of today, the text from 2nd Timothy is a continuation of pastoral advice from Paul, the Apostle, to Timothy the local Church leader. In essence, St. Paul is exhorting a youthful Timothy to be persistent, to stand fast, and to remain faithful to the Tradition he had received. St. Paul is encouraging him to proclaim the word as the principal activity by which to be faithful to the Gospel message.
Paul urges Timothy to continue in what he had learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom he had learned it and how from his childhood he had known the sacred writings that are able to instruct for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Even though Timothy had learned from his Jewish tradition particularly his parents much about the faith, it was from Paul that Timothy had learned about Jesus Christ. Now Paul solemnly charges Timothy to announce the word of God in all circumstances and to proclaim the message of Jesus, by challenging and encouraging people. He asks Timothy to be persistent in this work whether the time is favorable or unfavorable, with the utmost patience in teaching. In other words, the Word of God is always in season. Christians must persevere in their baptismal promise to reprove, entreat, and rebuke in all patience and doctrine, be it in the winter or in the summer, be it at home or at work, be it with family or with friends. Called to be God's children, the Lord has chosen to manifest His glory through us. If we remain idle, when the Lord returns, He will not know us. If we persist in our living faith, when He returns, He will welcome us to His eternal Kingdom.

In the Gospel Reading of today, the evangelist Luke explains that the parable of the unscrupulous judge and the importunate widow, which Jesus addressed to his disciples, is about “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” The widow has been wronged and she is looking for justice. We are not told what actually her case involved against her adversary. Anyway, she takes her case to a judge to get it, but the corrupt and unjust judge ignores her plea. In those days, a widow was the personification of powerlessness and she hardly had any chance to get justice. She had only God as her protector and care taker. However, she relentlessly pursues him and goes on pleading and nagging until he could no longer tolerate her presence, until finally, he accepts to intervene and decides the case in her favor. He helps the widow not because he is good but because she is persistent. Jesus concludes that if a corrupt judge can do justice to someone who keeps on asking, God, the most just judge of all, will certainly listen to those who persist in prayer. That is to say that if we are persistent, we can wear down even God.
Obviously, the parable is a lesson in persistence in prayer. But there is a problem also with this interpretation of the story. It is difficult and theologically incorrect for us to see anything of God in the judge himself. For, while the parable seems to present prayer as nagging God for what we want, such a reading misses the point. God is not like the judge in the parable, worn down by requests and coerced to respond. The judge in the the parable is corrupt and unjust. Since God can be neither, we must understand Jesus to be saying that if even an unjust judge responds to the persistence of the widow, how much more so will God listen to our prayers. God truly wants to hear our needs and respond generously. It is the final lament of Jesus that gets to the point of the parable. The lesson is about the persistence of the one who prays. God wants us to be like the persistent widow, staying in relationship with God, confident that God hears and answers prayers.
But there can be another way of reading the parable and interpret it. When we read this parable about perseverance, we usually think of it in these terms: God is the judge and we are the widow. This means we should persevere in pestering God until we are given what we want. But what happens if we turn that around and say that we are the judge and God is the widow? In some ways, this interpretation makes more sense. We, like the judge, are basically unjust. Sometimes we, too, have no fear of God; that is, we do not allow God to scare us into being good. Similarly, like the judge we persist in refusing to listen to the cries of the poor all around us. But God is the persistent widow who will not go away, an interesting turn on the story. God keeps badgering us, refusing to accept as final our no to love. God will persist until we render a just judgment, that is, until we let the goodness out, until we learn to love. Moreover, when one sees the widow as God-like, the meaning of the parable is that when one fights injustice, and keeps fighting it, and fights it until justice is achieved, then one is like God. Jesus own fight against injustice, even to his death and resurrection, is the model of a God-like fight to end the world of injustice and create the kingdom of God. An interesting turn on the widow’s story! We are like Jesus, like God, when we fight injustice without ceasing, nagging and fighting till justice is achieved. It may seem that people don’t listen to us, but if we keep it up, don’t relent, justice may come by the sheer force of our persistence.
Finally, Jesus concludes the parable by asking, "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" It is interesting that it is after he speaks of the persistent widow that Christ then moves on to speak of the coming of the Son of Man, the great event of the end times, the establishment of an everlasting kingdom where the rule of God orders all things. In a world that is full of the frenzy of activity, it seems impractical and useless to take time to pray. What does it accomplish, after all? The truth is that there is little faith in the power of prayer to bring about real, palpable results. In the end, it all depends upon what results we are seeking. If we are only trying to have success in temporal affairs – money, promotions, vacations and the like – then it is much more practical to just ambitiously seek our goals without regard for prayer. Therefore, to obtain our salvation, we must persevere in our living faith, in our adoration of God, in our love towards others, in our righteousness, in our obedience to God, in our servitude, in our humility, all of these being the food that feeds our souls to assure our salvation through Jesus Christ.

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples about the need to pray continually without losing heart. The parable is meant to show the importance of perseverance, even when God seems to delay in coming to their aid. Just as prayer requires faith, it also requires perseverance. Persevering prayer is a way of keeping alive what we hope for. It means to cling to God specially when we are in darkness. When Jesus tells us to pray always and never to lose heart - to persevere in prayer - He wants us to trust in His Father who always listens to us and who will never abandon us. He wants us never to doubt that our prayers - though not answered immediately - are heard for His Spirit is always with us.
Now, many of us may say that we have tried prayer and have given up on it after a while. Why? Because we didn't get what we prayed for. Why? Because in these days of instant coffee and instant results, we may have the mistaken notion that prayer works automatically, that when we pray for something, God will grant it and immediately. But God is not like that. He always answers our prayers but in His own way and in His own time. God knows our hearts and our thoughts. He knows our wants and needs. So why does he so often seem to delay in helping us? Perhaps the difficulty here is that, while he knows our needs and hears our prayers, it is often the case that we don't know our own needs. Very often we need time to have the requests and desires of our hearts clarified for ourselves, and very often this can only happen over a period of time.
Moreover, the loving and compassionate God does justice for the poor and the oppressed. He wants us also always to be concerned with justice for the rich and the poor. After all, God cares for all peoples equally. For aren't we all His children and therefore embraced by His providence?
So today, as we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask God to bless us with all the perseverance that we need to live our faith in Christ. Some of us may need perseverance in our baptismal promise to preach the Gospel. Others may need perseverance in prayer. And yet others may need perseverance in faith, or in loving one's neighbor. No matter what spiritual need we lack, by persevering in prayer, we can be assured that it will be granted to us by the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit so we may be sanctified in Christ. And this is the Good News of today.