FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 22, 2021:
You may recall the great movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, which came out a number of years ago now. It tells the story of a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on in the film that came to mind for me reflecting on our Scriptures today. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately says “no”. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, and says, “Yes, the man, he is the head. But the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
We heard from St. Paul today, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” It is always interesting to see the reactions to this particular line of Scripture. Wives be subordinate – or in some translations, submissive – to your husbands. This one single line has often been called the most dangerous sentence in the Bible; and because of the possible sexist connotations tied to it; it is more often than not completely avoided by most preachers. And, I think that is a real tragedy because what St. Paul is trying to say to us in this reading today is profound; it is important; and it also just might be exactly what our world needs to be reminded of right now. So bear with me and let’s see how we can come to understand this passage better.
You see, the problem with this phrase from Ephesians, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling and seems to support a subjugation of women, but that is an understanding that is out of context. When we look at the bigger picture, we find that St. Paul is not encouraging a chauvinistic household, but instead one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subordinate; everyone is the servant of the other.
There are two keys to this reading – the first is the initial words we hear, “Be subordinate to one another.” We are all called to be servants one to the other. So, if “wives be subordinate to your husbands” is true; then it is also true to say, “husbands be subordinate to your wives,” “children be subordinate to your parents,” “parents be subordinate to your children.” This reading doesn’t want to perpetuate a power dynamic, it’s not establishing a formal hierarchy in the Christian household with the husband at the top ruling over everyone else – quite the opposite; St. Paul wants to eliminate such notions; leaving in its wake a community of servants. “Be subordinate to one another.”
What does this Christian life of service look like? Just a few lines before, St. Paul says this, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” We cannot hear St. Paul’s words about being subordinate without hearing them in connection to these words. Subordination or service looks like compassion, and kindness, and humility, and gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
A good friend of mine just this week was telling me the story of how his grandparents met and I think it is a beautiful example of what St. Paul is speaking of when he asks husbands and wives to be servants of each other. Frederick and Bertha met in South Boston mere months before Frederick would head off to fight in World War I. Fred, although not Catholic, had a number of Catholic friends that were very involved in the Knights of Columbus and Fred would always be at their side helping with events. As their relationship developed, Bertha was taken with his kind heart and his devotion to volunteering in the church.
As Fred was off in the Navy during the war, the two would correspond regularly, eventually falling in love via this correspondence. Ironically, both Fred and Bertha were Lutherans, but neither knew that about the other. In fact, they each assumed the other was Catholic. And so as Bertha’s love for Frederick grew deeper, she decided to secretly speak with the local Catholic pastor. She told the priest, “I’m falling in love, and he’s Catholic. I would like to become a Catholic for him.” Bertha began to meet weekly with the priest and was welcomed into the Catholic faith. But, she didn’t say a word to Fred.
Once the war was over, Frederick returned and the first thing that Bertha wanted to do was go to Mass together to pray in gratitude for Fred’s safe return. They went, but he felt embarrassed because, not being Catholic, he wasn’t sure what to do. But, he saw the deep faith of the woman he loved and wanted what she had. So, off Frederick went, secretly, to the same pastor and said, “I’ve fallen in love with Bertha and she’s Catholic. I would like to become Catholic because she’s the woman I want to marry.” So he started meeting with the pastor weekly, and once he had been welcomed into the faith, he asked Bertha to marry him – both of them completely unaware of what the other had done. The night before their wedding, at the wedding rehearsal, the pastor shared the secret that they had become Catholic out of love for the other.
“Brothers and sister be subordinate to one another.” Fred and Bertha were servants to each other – they saw the good in each other; they wanted the same holiness that they saw in each other; they knew that their only happiness could be found in serving each other out of reverence for Christ.
My friends, we are not called to be powerful in relation to each other, we are called to be powerless; we are not called to be lords over one another; we are called to serve. In a world that seeks to pit us one against another day after day, let us instead be servants to each other – not just the people we like or who like us; but everyone. How do we end the cycle of anger, and hatred, and division? Be subject to each other out of reverence for Christ.
“Put on, as God's chosen ones heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” Let us be subordinate to one another.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY, August 15, 2021:
How many of you have ever been told, “You’re just like your mother?” I hear this often, and especially since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, I take it as a great compliment as my Mom was my closest friend, and an example of a happy and holy life. I’m proud to be just like my mother. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this.
As Catholics, we treasure our devotion to the Blessed Mother and this special relationship that Jesus leaves us with His mother. From the cross Jesus said to His beloved disciple and to us, “Behold your mother.” Today’s feast celebrates this wonderful teaching that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul when her time on earth was complete. This was proclaimed in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and when you think about it, Mary’s assumption just makes sense. The Assumption tells us that Mary did not suffer the corruption of death the way the rest of us do because she was immaculately conceived without the stain of original sin. Scripture tells us that bodily death is the result of original sin. So, since Mary didn’t have original sin, then she doesn’t suffer its penalty, and so after her 72 years on the earth, she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
So, what does this have to do with us? Today is more than a commemoration of a moment in the life of Mary; it is also an invitation. Our Eucharistic prayer today says, “The virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection.” The beginning and the pattern of the Church. You see, Assumption is not only about Mary; it's also about you and me. Mary sets a pattern that we are meant to imitate – where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.
From the very beginning, God did not intend us to die. God created us for eternity, for immortality. And, this is where we hear the words, “You’re just like your mother.” What we celebrate in Mary today is what God promises for all of us – eternity and immortality with Him in Heaven. In his encyclical on the Rosary, Saint John Paul II reminded us that we “sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ.” Mary shows us the way to follow her Son and how to reach eternity in our own lives.
In the Gospel we heard, “Blessed is the womb that carried you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Jesus reminds us, it was not Mary’s womb that made her blessed, it is that she repeatedly heard the Word of God and observed it. She said “yes” to what God would ask of her in life. And her “yes” was not only in response to the question of the angel. She continued to say yes to God throughout her life. She raised her son, she followed Him during His ministry, she endured the piercing of her heart by watching her son be tortured and killed, and even after Christ rose and ascended to Heaven, Mary went on saying “yes” to God. She became the spiritual mother to the disciples. Mary became their strength, their guide; the link between Jesus and His followers. She was there in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended. Mary continued to spread the Good News, to give witness to a life dedicated to God, to help establish what would become the Church. Tradition holds that Mary made it as far as Ephesus and it was there that her earthly life ended. Mary believed in the potential of God to do anything – even the seemingly impossible – from the moment that the angel came to her until the moment of her Assumption into Heaven. Mary trusted that God’s plan would unfold in her life.
And what we see in Mary today, we can see in our own lives. As Mary is assumed, we’re reminded that “we too are just like our mother.” We can achieve the same eternity by hearing the Word of God and observing it. At the School of Mary we learn hear God’s Word and having the courage to follow. It is about obedience; it’s about listening, hearing with heart and mind, and then, of course, following. What God promises in Mary, He promises in us – and that is nothing short of Heaven.
Let us all strive to be just like our mother, Mary. Let us pray today, through her intercession, that Jesus will say of us as he said of His mother, “Blessed are you – all of you – who hear the Word of God and observe it.”
May the Lord give you peace.
In order to join the Navy, John first had to pass a routine physical. During the exam, the doctor discovered that, due to an abnormality, John couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Unsure if he should approve John, the doctor conferred with another doctor. "Let him pass," said the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems – unless he has to surrender."
Our first reading today is a story of surrender. We heard, “Elijah prayed for death saying, ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.’” This is a statement that most of us can relate to, I think. How often do we feel like we are at a point in life when we want to throw up our hands, surrender, and say “This is enough! I’ve had enough!”
So, why was Elijah so down? Well, as we pick up his story today, God has asked a tremendous amount of him. He – a man alone – was sent by God to confront Queen Jezebel who had lead Israel astray to worship a false god. Elijah had just engaged in a major confrontation with her prophets before our passage today and the result was that the Queen sent a messenger to tell Elijah that before the day is done, he will be put to death. Elijah runs in fear for his life.
At this moment, Elijah did what God asked and was worried that his reward was to be execution. He has thrown his arms up in surrender, ready to give up. He has been plunged into darkness and doubt. Wanting to quit and turn his life over to the hands of God, he sleeps. But when he awakened, God sent an angel to care for him. Food and water appeared and the angel fed him. He experienced God’s care for him and through it discovered that he has the strength to make his way to safety - and to begin again. When Elijah surrendered fully to God; in response God refreshed and renewed him; gave him life once again.
Elijah’s story should sound familiar to us, because there’s not one of us here who hasn’t been brought low, or felt defeated, and ready to surrender at one point or another in our lives. Whether we’re the fifth grader who feels doomed by a difficult subject; the mom slowly worn down by a long summer tending to the children she loves; the disappointed spouse who despite trying and trying again, can see no hope for the future of their marriage; the investor who made all the wrong decisions till there was nothing left; the sick person who has tried every doctor, every cure, but to no avail… and so on.
In these moments, we might also feel like saying, “I’m finished, I’m empty; I have nothing left to give, to say, to do; I am too tired to lift a pencil; too tired to hope; too tired to cry. I’ve had enough. I surrender.” And what is God’s answer? He doesn’t say, “Buck up! Be strong!” He doesn’t say, “Get over it and move on.” God knows when our strength is spent and when we are empty. Instead, our loving and caring God sends an angel to us too and says, “Be still; rest with me awhile, and wait. As slow rain fills an empty cup, I will fill you; I will nurture you, care for you, feed you and restore your strength – if you hold up your cup, and wait, and be still with me.”
He sends these angels in the form of the good and supportive friends we have; in the love that people show us in life; in the kindness of a stranger; and so importantly in moments of prayer; pre-eminently in the Eucharist. Every Mass is exactly that kind of opportunity to be still with God, to be filled up with what He has to offer, to hear the gentle words of God’s encouragement in Scripture, and to be awakened to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered in every Eucharist. Jesus said exactly this in today’s Gospel, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Our Gospel today is a continuation of “Bread of Life discourse.” It reminds us once again, that Jesus sustains us, lifts us up and feeds us in ways that offer newness, freshness, relief and even the promise of eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” He says. “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” He says. This message is for us a great message of reassurance; a great message of hope.
So, if you come to this place today feeling a bit like Elijah – feeling a bit wearied by life, downtrodden by challenging situations, or hopeless in the face of impossible relationships; if you come here today feeling like you could say, “Lord, this is enough.” God says to you, “Be still and know that I am God.” So, be still and wait with Me. Listen to My words. Feel My presence. Let me refresh you, renew you and make you whole, once again. If on the other hand, you come here today filled with God’s goodness, God’s blessings, and God’s love – then perhaps He is calling you to be that comfort for your brothers and sisters in their challenges. Perhaps He is calling you to be the Bread of Life for someone you encounter.
God will give you what you need to be strengthened to finish your journey. All you have to do is let Him.
May the Lord strengthen you today and give you His peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.