FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 28, 2022:
There is a story from the American Revolution of an officer in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers digging a foxhole. Their commander was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why, he replied indignantly, “Sir, I am their commander!” The stranger apologized, dismounted from his horse, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. When the job was done, he turned to the commander and said “The next time you have a job like this, and not enough men to do it, go to your Commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was only then that the man recognized who was standing before him, General George Washington. “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our readings today are a loud and direct call to embrace humility in our lives as members of Gods’ family. We heard from Sirach, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in all of life – especially if we are truly seeking goodness and holiness– is this struggle between humility and pride. God’s message to us is clear – our faith and our baptism calls each of us to humility. And yet, our world cries out even more loudly with a different message – be Number One, be the best, be the richest, be the most famous, the most powerful. The one who dies with the most toys wins! But as St. Paul reminds us, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.
Our Gospel today similarly uses parables to teach the virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor. The first parable is addressed to those invited to a feast and are seeking places of honor. Regardless of social status and importance we all come to the banquet as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. In God’s Kingdom, the employer-employee relationship, the master and servant distinction, the division of rich or poor, popular or unpopular – these all dissolve and we recognize one another simply as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus challenges us to abolish such distinctions and treat one another as equal brothers and sisters before God; no matter our position in the world. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
If the first parable is about being invited, the second parable about those who have the opportunity to invite and be welcoming to others. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be.” In this second parable, Jesus goes beyond merely removing distinctions and calls us to even have a preference for the poor, the disabled and the marginalized among us. He calls us to give the first place to those most in need in our communities. He reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is priority is to be given to the weakest members of our society.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “The true measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members.” This is even more true for the Christian community. Unfortunately, we live in a world of never-ending grievance that wants to say that the poverty around us is always someone else’s problem; that wants to blame the homeless, the hungry, the drug addict, and the refugee for their condition in life. Listen the next time you hear people argue about poverty or health care or immigration – or as people argue about the latest plan to forgive college debt. Is it a conversation of compassion or one of grievance? Where is the care, the preference, for the poor? One person’s blessing does not always need to be another person’s grievance. Jesus hopes that mercy will be our response to the poverty around us; that compassion will be in our hearts when we encounter others in need; that joy will fill us when their needs are being met and addressed. You see, when we love the poor, we do more than simply make their lives better, it is more than philanthropy. When we love the poor, we are loving God; when we reach out to the poor, we are encountering God; when we find the poor in our midst, we discover God in our midst. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for Me.”
Pope Francis spoke about this a few years ago speaking on the Feast of St. Thomas and his post-resurrection encounter with Jesus. The Pope said, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to, like Thomas, find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked or humiliated, because they are in jail or the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith towards Him through His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus. Just think of what happened to Thomas: his life changed.”
Jesus, today, is once again pointing us to what is really of value – caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what we do already? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and resources to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we support many worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really, when you think about it, extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility. And if our eyes our open, we just might notice that we have encountered Christ in those very same moments. And that should be life changing for us all.
There is a Greek proverb which says, “A society grows great, when the old plant trees, the shade of which they will never sit under.” My friends, the truth of our faith is that good people, holy people, do things for other people; especially those in need. That’s it. The end. Let us pray today and every day that we have an ever-growing compassion for those in most need in our midst and that we may reach out to them in charity and love – not as “other” or “unworthy”, but as our brothers and sisters, members of one family in Christ.
“Blessed indeed will you be…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, August 21, 2022:
I saw a great cartoon earlier this week. It showed a man knocking on a bedroom door. From inside the room, a voice cries out, “No! I don’t wanna go back to school!” The man said in reply, “I know honey. I know. But, you have to.” The voice pleaded, “Why?” The man responded, “Because, honey, you’re the teacher!” Maybe some of you can relate to this theme? This is indeed for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for teachers and kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.
Summer is a wonderful time of year. Everything moves at a different pace. We put more emphasis on being with family and friends; on relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, good food, one another. We go to cookouts, baseball games, summer camp, the beach; we have vacation time, and so on. For me, it has been the most unique summer of my life. Following my surgery in May, this summer has been filled with rehab, a slower pace, and focusing on getting myself healthy again. And, thankfully, over the course of especially the last month, just feeling better and better, and once again more like myself.
As the days of summer begin to wane, we just really don’t want this special time to end. But, we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We want summer to last forever, but eventually we have to return to regular life. We can feel conflicted.
There is a similarly conflicted reality in what Jesus is telling His followers in today’s Gospel. Someone asks Him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is not the answer they were looking for; I’m sure it’s not the answer we wanted to hear either. We would like Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do whatever you want! Everyone is saved!”
But, I think rather than the wrong answer, the real problem here is that the person in our Gospel is asking the wrong question. He asks, “Will only a few be saved?” when what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Rather than a mere curiosity about others being saved, we need to be asking, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I reach out and be the kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving presence that God has called me to be?”
You see, too often, we turn our faith into a matter of comparison. In other words, we can be tempted to thing that as long as there is someone else worse than me, then somehow I’m okay. How can my small sins matter when there are so many bigger ones in the world? But, our faith in Jesus isn’t comparative, it is personal. It is a one-on-one relationship with the very means of our salvation – a one-on-one relationship with Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us in Word and Sacrament everything we need to know to be saved. The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. But the gate is not a mystery; it is not hidden. Jesus points us to the gate for our salvation; and the gate is open right in front of us and it is the right size for each of us to walk through. All we have to do is follow the person ahead of us through that gate; and that person is Jesus.
We can feel sometimes like those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten Your Body and we drank of Your Blood and You taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”
But to this Jesus says: “Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can like Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and then follow Me through the door that leads to My Kingdom, that leads to your salvation.”
This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” My friends, let us ask today, “What must I do to be saved?” And may God give each of us the strength to follow.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.