FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 25, 2020:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a favorite childhood memory. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”
This concern resonates with what we see in our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor? As we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 18, 2020:
It seems like every four years, our system of election for the highest office in the land gets more-and-more polarized, more-and-more tense and anxious, more-and-more negative. If you’re like me, it is hard to even watch the news, read a newspaper, or tune in to social media. The vitriol seems to only increase and just when it seems like it can’t get worse, it shows us that in fact it can. So, what are we to do? How are we to vote? How does a person of faith navigate these stormy seas with intelligence, with grace, and civility?
Well, Jesus actually enters into the fray today, but perhaps in a way we would not have expected. You see, too many people keep looking to the church, the clergy, the bishops with the hope that someone will tell them who you can vote for, who you cannot vote for, who the “Catholic” candidate is. These are not the right questions to ask. Jesus today reminds us instead to ask about the things that are eternal.
In our passage today, the Pharisees are trying to drag Jesus into the politics of His time. Why wouldn’t they? After all, things were fairly terrible. This once great nation, God’s chosen people, has found itself occupied by a foreign invader. The Roman Empire had conquered them, taken away their control and their freedoms, even limited much of their religious liberty. Surely Jesus would stand up and say who the right candidate was, or how everyone should act or what they are to do politically; surely He would speak out against this behemoth who had Israel under its thumb? But instead, He says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
What do you think that Jesus means? Is this about church-state relations? Does Jesus mean to divide things between Ceasar and God as a child divides candy – one for you and one for me; one for Ceasar and one for God? He can hardly mean that there are some things that belong to Ceasar and other things that belong to God because that would suggest that reality is divisible into the secular and the sacred, as if the things we do for the world have nothing to do with God. And that is surely not right. So what does Jesus mean?
First, we have to recognize that the question itself is a trap: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax or not?” If Jesus responds “yes” He is allying himself with the Roman occupiers and that would put Him in trouble with His fellow Jewish patriots. If He says “no” then He is in trouble with the Roman authorities and is liable to be arrested as encouraging rebellion. Does Jesus fall into the trap? No, instead He asks them for the Roman coin used to pay the tax. Once they produce the coin, He is saying to them, “I don’t have one – you do.” You have Ceasar’s coin. By using his currency, you are the ones allying yourself to his system, accepting his rule, recognizing his empire, his authority. So, if you have taken his money, give him back his money. “Repay to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar.” Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer because it is not a straight question. It is a trap which He skillfully avoids.
But, as always Jesus surprises the crowd with the challenge He adds, “Repay to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is saying that our obligation to worldly things is judged by a higher obligation – our obligation to God. If you think you feel an obligation to the state, it can’t compare to the obligation you should feel to God. Jesus uses this opportunity to remind the people of the first and greatest commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Forget about smart questions intended to trap Jesus, instead, worship God – not with mere externals as the Pharisees do, but from deep within your soul. When things are right in your relationship with God, the way you should act and speak in the world will be clear.
Jesus uses this chance to remind us that membership in the Church is membership in a worshipping family. The Church reaches her fullness when she falls on her knees in prayer. She stands straight and walks tall when she bows her head in adoration to the One True God. The care of the sick, the struggle for justice, the needs of the poor, the education of the young – all of these are essential to the mission of the Church, but they flow from the highest function of the Church – the prayerful worship of our Almighty God. The Church is most powerfully herself when she gathers to celebrate the Holy Mass. The Mass is the very summit of her activity, the Everest of her life. The spirit of the Church finds noble expression in the many works of service that we engage in, but it is the worship of God that takes place here that we must look to discover her soul, and hence, our souls.
And this is what we have upside down in our world, especially as the election draws near. We begin in the wrong place. We worry about which party is correct, which tribe to belong to and which tribe to hate, which candidate fits our bill, how to influence and convince, how to make change. But that should be not where we start, but where we end. This is where we start – right here for the Holy Mass. This is more than a mere custom we fulfill; it is where we worship our God and dsicover ourselves; allowing God to enter our lives and change us to be more like His Son. The way we act in the world must flow from the grace, the love, the joy, mercy, and compassion that are born in us here every time we celebrate the Holy Mass. Begin with repaying to God what belongs to God and all the rest will follow.
So if you are struggling with what to do in the ballot box this year, start by placing yourself before God here. Place your lives, your cares, your worries, our nation and our world, on this altar and allow God to send His Holy Spirit upon them just like He will send it upon the bread and wine. Once we are transformed fully into members of His Kingdom through our worship; only then can we transform our world to become the Kingdom He promised us.
As St. Teresa of Jesus, whose feast we celebrated this week, said, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
My friends, let us “repay to God what belongs to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 4, 2020:
There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged a defenseless Austrian town. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss surrender. As they talked, a wise old man stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to church where the bells rang to assemble the town for prayer. But, when Massena heard the ringing of the bells he concluded that reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.
We heard St. Paul say to the Philippians today, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” St. Paul reminds us of something the people of that Austrian town knew; something that we all need to be reminded of in these challenging times today – our faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. People who have no faith respond to life's problems with worry, and fear, and anxiety. But people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer, with trust, and with hope.
We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety. In our times we worry about our health in the midst of a virus that no one is safe from – not even the President and his wife. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages us to raise our hands in surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands in petition to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.
St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.
So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about COVID or other health issues, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to stop, take a deep breath, and throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.
The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. At this Mass we will receive once again the Christ’s gift of peace which is meant to calm the worry of our souls. What we experience here today, it is our job to bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.
My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” “Have no anxiety at all…make your heart known to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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