The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time “A”

How many of us think that Jesus' parable today is telling us a story about a situation that is both unfair and unjust. I’m pretty sure every one of us can think of some injustice in our lives. If we think back over the years can we remember some things that have happened to us that we figure were pretty unjust?

I think most of us have some experience of injustice in our lives. Sometimes that injustice that has happened to us leaves a wound that takes a long time to heal. However Jesus’ story today is not about injustice because really there is no injustice done to anyone in it.

And Jesus’ parable is not about justice either, although for sure the story goes out of its way to tell us that justice is done.

Justice is a great thing and it is one of those things that is stressed over and over again in the Bible. But as I said, Jesus' story is not about justice either.

If it’s not about justice or injustice what then is this parable all about? The owner of the vineyard says 'Are you envi­ous because I am generous?' And that phrase is the key phrase of the whole story. This parable is about generosity, a generosity unlike anything we've ever known or seen in our lives.

The eleventh-hour workers were not lazy people who didn't want to work. But they were people no respectable employer would hire. These people were the leftovers, the rejects. All the good workers were gone to work already.

And so the idea that any employer would take these peo­ple on at the eleventh hour, and pay them a full day's wage, was really unthink­able. Yet this is exactly what the owner of the vineyard did. And that action is the whole point of the parable. In this story Jesus isn’t talking about human generosity but rather He is talking about the generosity of God. In today’s First Reading it was said, 'God's ways are not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts'. And so, in today’s Gospel God's generosity is totally unlike human generosity.

I mean who among us would have done what the owner of the vineyard did? Think about it. In today’s world, truthfully, who among us is going to pay someone the same wage for one hour’s work as we would for eight hours work. It’s not going to happen. Jesus aimed this parable directly at the Pharisees. You see, the Pharisees were critical of Jesus because He befriended sinners and so Jesus gave them His answer in this par­able.

In this parable Jesus shows them and shows us what God is like: God is generous and full of compassion for the poor, the outcast and the sinner. God is generous and full of compassion for all of us. God deals with us in ways that are very different from the ways we normally deal with one another. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is God's generosity above our generosity. The goodness of God is a great comfort to us. But it is also a great challenge to us, because you know what? We are called to imitate it. We are called to deal with one another the same way as God deals with us. And that is a great responsibility.

Therefore we are called to conversion, because a conversion is required before we can begin to act like God. Not an intellectual conversion, not a conversion of the mind but a conversion of the heart.

St John says: 'Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.' Once God has touched our hearts, and warmed them with His love, we will begin to love in our turn. And then we will truly know what God is like. God is love. This parable is about God's gen­erosity to all of us. This parable is about giving. Giving what? This parable is about God giving us that free and utterly undeserved gift that we call grace and our response to that gift.

If we accept that view then we can see that it is about God's call to us, and blessed are those who listen to Him and respond to His call and in turn 'call to Him', realizing that 'He is close to all who call on Him, who call on Him from their hearts'. The landowner in the parable calls workers into His vineyard at daybreak, at the third hour, at the sixth and ninth hours and finally at the eleventh hour. When we listen to this story we have to all agree that this is a most peculiar way of going about things.

This parable is telling a story not about unemployment, it is not about wages, but rather it is teaching the Pharisees and us about how God has dealt with the human race throughout the ages. Jesus was speaking to His disciples who knew their Scriptures very well and, as He spoke to them, they remembered the call to Abraham who was called by God three times and each time Abraham answered the call, believing and trusting in God, obeying God and doing what God told Him to do.

That same call came to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, to Moses who led the people out of the captivity of Egypt into the freedom of the desert. And it is here we can begin to understand the meaning of the divine call. It was there in the desert that God made a covenant with the people, a covenant, a union that later in the Old Testament is called a love-pact, a marriage between God and His chosen people.

God gave them a way of life called the Torah, which literally means “the law”, which includes the Ten Commandments but also a great deal more. Through Moses the people were called upon to promise that they would keep the law, and God promised to bind Himself to them and so they would be His people and He would be their God. This was all sealed by sacrifice when Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrificed animal saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.'

All seemed pretty good for the future of the chosen ones, but unhappily it was not so. As we know, in spite of repeated calls through the prophets over the centuries, in spite of all the various and painful turns of fortune for the Jewish people, time and again they failed to make an adequate response to God

And so it was in the fullness of time that God sent His Son, born of a woman, Mary of Nazareth, born a subject of the old law, that He might redeem those who were under the old law. And He came and dwelt among us and taught and called people to Himself, among them He called the twelve disciples and He called all the others, men and women, of whom we read about in the gospels. He called them, they responded, they followed, and they like ourselves were those who were called at the eleventh hour to experience the generosity of God. And our calling at the eleventh hour was completed by the New Covenant.

At the Last Supper, on the night before He died to show us and to show the whole of the human race how much He loved us, He said a prayer of blessing over some bread - Jesus said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' He said a prayer of thanksgiving over the wine and offering it to the twelve said: 'This is my blood of the covenant. Take and drink.' This was and this is the sacrament of the New Covenant with the new People of God, brought into existence by the shedding of Jesus' blood and the complete free will of­fering of Himself to His Father.

As we read in the Gospel of St John, greater love, (and we could say here, greater generosity) no one could have than that He should give His life for others. That is the generosity shown in today's gospel.

So let us not forget that we also are being called. We are among the last to be called, those called at the eleventh hour, and therefore we have an obligation to re­spond to God's call by our daily living, by our lived faith, and by the love of God and for each other which we should return for the love that Jesus has shown us. We are in a sense privileged and at the same time we are not privileged. We are privileged in that through no merit of our own we have been called freely by God‘s grace into God's church out of the infinite goodness of God.

At the same time not privileged because, if like the people of old we fail to respond to God’s call, to God’s grace, if we fail to live for Him, if we fail to take our place in co-working with Him to bring about His kingdom, His reign, then we shall have forfeited whatever may seem to have been a privileged position. For by our disobedience and rebellion then the last shall become first but we who are first can also become the last.

And so, these are the questions that Jesus asks us in this parable: In our lives as faithful Catholic Christians, how are we responding to God’s grace? Are we responding to God’s call to live for Him, to put Him first in our lives, to obey Him and His church in order to help Him bring about His Kingdom, His reign?

Are we keeping our part of the bargain? Are we our brother’s keeper as God asks us to be? How are we responding to His call to forgive each other, to help each other, to guide and teach each other, to pray for each other? Are we truly obeying His command to love one another with the generosity that He has loved us?

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

Friday, September 09, 2011

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sept. 11, 2011

First we have to notice that Christ's teaching is holistic, complete and universal. This is especially visible when we see the Gospel of the last Sunday and today's teaching of Christ. Jesus is teaching us seriously and talking honestly in the universal way. He is not just skipping the difficult topics to please to his disciples. For this reason we cannot take one part of His teaching which is pleasing to us and forget or reject the other part which is less nice or demanding. And this is –most probably- the biggest problem of the contemporary Christians. We are accustomed to "choose", to "pick-out" and to select. What is agreeable I accept, what is not I reject. I am choosing and selecting, I am deciding according to my wishes or caprices.

Last Sunday Jesus was teaching about our mutual responsibility, about our mutual duty to help each other in the situation of sin. Today He is teaching about the duty of forgiveness, mercy and compassion. But I cannot be merciful, I cannot forgive you, I cannot be compassionate if:

(and there are two NECESSARY CONDITIONS) …

- I don't see that something was wrong in your behaviour, so I CANNOT FORGIVE without judging, or assessing

- And secondly - if you don't recognise your errors and faults, if you claim that everything is OK and you don't do anything wrong,

If there is no sin, no error, not offence so …? What to forgive, what to excuse, why to be merciful and compassionate?

Fr. Alex McAllister SDS

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Peter poses the question, an entirely practical one, by asking how many times we must forgive those who sin against us.

What was being taught at the time in the Synagogues was that one had a duty to forgive someone three times and so we can see that Peter by putting forward the possibility of forgiving seven times probably thinks he is doing very well. In giving the number seventy-seven Jesus is essentially saying that there should be no limits to the number of times we forgive those who have offended us.

In the parable that Jesus gives to illustrate his point there are two different currencies used. The servant owed the king ten thousand talents, a huge sum; but the man who owed the servant money only owed one hundred denarii. Since one talent was equal to six thousand denarii we can see that the man only owed the servant a tiny amount in comparison.

Jesus clearly intends the King to represent the Father and is by means of a parable is making the point that the debts we owe to one another are just chicken-feed in comparison to what we owe God.

Nothing we can do, can ever pay the debt we owe to God. Yet he offers his forgiveness freely to all. Somehow though, this extraordinary generosity seems to offend our human sensibilities. We find it difficult to cope with such unrestrained generosity. It goes against what we think of as natural justice. We feel that sins must be paid for; that recompense must be made for serious offences. We feel that justice must be done and seen to be done.

The willingness to make restitution is an important factor in establishing true repentance. But sometimes this can be difficult to achieve and this is why in confession these things are discussed with the priest who will determine what is appropriate in the given circumstances.

I was once in the prison a while ago saying mass and on my way out a young man came up for a chat. He had only arrived there the previous week from another prison. I asked him how long he had already served but was astonished at his reply: nineteen years.

It seems he had been given a life sentence. I asked him when he was due to be released. He said that he didn’t know as it was entirely in the hands of the parole board who he said were sure to knock him back. His best guess was another two years or so.

Now I have no idea what that man did to deserve life imprisonment; but we can guess that it must have involved murder perhaps with some aggravating circumstances. All I do know is that his crime was committed when he was quite young because he only looked about forty years old.

There are all kinds of things that have to be taken into account by a judge when he determines a prison sentence. He must consider the seriousness of the crime, the state of mind and personal circumstances of the criminal as well as other factors such as the potential danger to the public.

Sentencing policy is always controversial and governments are constantly adjusting the guidelines as a way of showing themselves to be sensitive to the wishes of the electorate.

But human justice can never be compared to God’s justice. And the fundamental difference between them is that only God can see into the very heart of man. Only God truly knows all that has to be taken into account. Only God can know whether someone is truly repentant. Only God can determine whether appropriate restitution has been completed.

Our problem is that we think that God is too lenient. We think that God will let major sinners off the hook if they express some slight repentance. And we frequently don’t think that this is right or just. We would be harsher; we tend to believe that punishment is the true expression of justice and that most criminals get off too lightly.

When it comes to our turn things get more complicated. There are two common approaches. One is the tendency think that our sins are relatively minor when compared to those of some others and God can’t or won’t withhold his forgiveness. And the other is the opposite, it is the surprisingly common belief that our sins are so bad that God can’t or won’t forgive us.

Of course, in both of these positions there lies a heresy and we realise that they are just plain wrong. On the one hand God certainly does not overlook our sins. But then neither does he withhold his forgiveness from those who truly repent.

And this is the key as far as God is concerned: true repentance. In thinking about what repentance consists in, I realised, just the other day, that it must be an aspect of love. We love the other person and through this love we come to realise just how much we have hurt them. Love then motivates us to make appropriate restitution and to seek forgiveness.

Sin is quite the opposite; it is the expression of lack of love. Selfishness is the real motivation for sin. Greed, abuse of power, hate –all these things are the opposite of love.

So the human project, the very aim and purpose of the Christian life, is to grow in love. And the best and most straightforward way to do this is to imitate Christ, the Lord of Love. The solution then for every sin, for every crime, is to grow in love. This is what brings about repentance both in this world and in the hereafter.

In talking to that man in the prison, I asked him how he had coped over these nineteen long years. He told me, only two things have kept me going –the love of my family and the fact that I found God. Without those, he said, I’d never have survived.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

23 Ordinary Time – A - 2011

Homily from Father Cusick

Meeting Christ in the Liturgy

Ezekiel 33, 7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13, 8-10; Matthew 18, 15-20

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The first reading today from Ezekiel speaks about the responsibility that we have to each other. The Lord says that we are set as watchmen for his people. It is wrong for someone to ignore another person who is behaving improperly. There is an obligation to try to convince the other person to choose right over wrong. Of course, this is difficult because we can jeopardize our lives if we appoint ourselves as guardians of everyone else’s actions. For example, if you are in Wal-Mart and come upon a young Mom with eighteen month old twins in a stroller and a four year old who doesn’t want to hold on to her hand, and you hear her yelling at her four year old, your life might be in jeopardy if you tell her that she should speak nicely to her children. At the very least, you probably would get hit in the face with a diaper bag. Actually, Ezekiel’s is not speaking about people in general. He is speaking about being a watchman for the community of Israel. His main point refers not as much to people we don’t know as to those we do know. This is even more difficult. If we learn that our friend or a member of our family is doing something immoral, and we don’t say anything, we are condoning their action. It takes a lot of courage to say to someone, “Look, I can’t agree with what you are doing, and I hope you reconsider your actions,” but Christianity does take courage.

The Gospel reading today is dealing with someone who has offended you. It gives a set procedure: talk to the person about it. If this doesn’t work, bring two or three others to have a discussion about it. If this is not successful, then go before the community and discuss the matter. If the community agrees with you, and the person still continues to offend you, then he or she is no longer part of the community.

This sounds harsh, but is it not much better than our present system. Ideally, if we followed what the gospel suggests we would be much better and less stressed in our lives than with our "political correctness" AGENDA.

We do indeed "meet Christ in the liturgy". Learning this truth and living by it, every Catholic can learn to love the liturgy more and to participate in it more deeply, responding to the infinite graces that are present in each Mass. Many, unfortunately, are unaware that an encounter with Christ happens each time the liturgy is offered. Many allow themselves to become bored, are put off by the obligation to attend Mass, and many fall away. Yes, we must attend Mass each week in order to fulfill the commandment to keep the Lord's Day holy, but it is more perfect to do so out of love of God and the desire to praise Him. He is ever worthy of all praise and glory because of He is God. It is our great calling as creatures to find fulfillment and happiness in coming to know and love our Creator, and to worship Him.

The teaching of the Church about the presence of Christ in the Mass, or liturgy, comes from Christ's own teaching. Christ is present in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, really, truly and substantially. The Eucharist is the great sign of the Church and the guarantee of Lord's abiding presence in the Church and in the sacraments.

Christ is also present through the authority of the Church to teach in matters of faith and morals in his name and, as it were, with his own voice. In today's Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter eighteen, verses fifteen to twenty, we hear again that the Church has been given Christ's power to bind or loose, to forgive or not forgive sins. All of the Church's faithful enjoy Christ's presence, through the Holy Spirit, while assembled to praise and worship him and to pray in His name. The Catechism helps us in our understanding. Christ, glorified at the right of the Father in heaven, is now present among us in a number of ways, including in the earthly liturgy, or the Mass. "Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, 'the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,' but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised 'where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.' " (Mt. 18: 20) (CCC 1088)


The readings also tell us that we are members of a faith community and as such we are accountable to each other. Quite often, we miss this. We consider ourselves accountable only directly to God, and then convince ourselves that God understands the stress we have and will close an eye to our sins. We may convince ourselves, but we are assuming that God agrees with us. What we are overlooking is that God is present in the community. The Church is the Body of Christ. When we offend others, when we sin, we are sinning against the Body of Christ. If we hurt another person, we are offending Christ within that other person as well as offending the entire Christian community. If we claim we are Christian, we have a responsibility to all other Christians to behave in a Christian way. We are accountable to each other, and to all others in the Church.

Many of you have told me that you really felt your responsibility to others to act in a Christian way when you got married. Your wife, your husband, had a right to your respect, charity, patience and kindness. You have told me that you avoid the immorality of the world because you are accountable to your spouse. You who are married take care of yourselves physically, mentally and spiritually because you belong to each other. Others of you have told me that you really felt the depth of your responsibility to others when you had children.

22 Sunday of the year – A – August 28, 2011

"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world

and forfeit his life" …

Last week we heard in our Gospel reading about Peter’s spontaneous profession of faith “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This was followed by Christ’s great mandate to Peter and his successors, “Upon this rock I will build my Church.”

And yet here we are with the immediately following text where Jesus calls Peter a stumbling block and says, “Get behind me Satan”! It is hard to credit that these two things should be in the same Gospel, let alone in the same chapter.

Matthew has deliberately chosen to put these incidents together. First we have the profession of Peter’s faith together with Jesus’ declaration that it is on the rock of Peter that he will build his Church and then immediately following we have the text today about him becoming a stumbling block and the famous phrase “Get behind me Satan.”

Matthew puts these two things together as a warning to us, the members of the Church, the people to whom this Gospel is primarily addressed. It is a warning that we should not take the first part of the text in any sort of triumphal way. We should not become so confident that we are members of the true Church of Christ that we start to believe that this means we can do no wrong. This is the warning against our human capacity of making all things smooth and "nice". This is the warning against our temptation of "organizing" and "shaping" our salvation relaying on our human capabilities and resources. Western civilization is so successful and efficacious in so many domains that we start to believe that we can achieve our ultimate salvation through our own efforts and means. This is why Jesus is telling me: "You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Be careful and don’t rely on yourself on your possibilities.

Actually, what he is telling us is that we have to tread very carefully indeed so as not to become the very opposite of what we are meant to represent.

Peter did not mean to offend Jesus, and he certainly did not want to do anything to obstruct Jesus’ plan of salvation; it is simply that he didn’t understand it in all its fullness. He tried to be politically correct. Peter was simply saying the kind of thing any other human being would say in the circumstances; he can’t really believe that Jesus would need to suffer and die. Because he loves Jesus he does not want him to die and so comes out with his statement of disbelief.

One can’t help but think of how human Peter was; his very impulsiveness being one of his most endearing characteristics. It seems that in the Gospels he always speaks from the heart even if what he says is a bundle of contradictions.

We find this to be very reassuring. Jesus did not choose the perfect man on which to build his Church. No, he chose a man like us; someone with all the same sorts of faults and contradictions that we recognise within ourselves and yet someone who is essentially good and straightforward.

Even when we get to the moment of Peter’s greatest betrayal, when he denies Christ three times, we find that it is not something blatantly bad that he is doing. Actually he is trying to be near Jesus, to find out what is going to happen to him and, one is tempted to think, try to help Jesus if he can.

What happens is that his cover is blown, he is recognised and it is the panic that this induces that causes Peter to deny that he even knows Jesus.

And here in our text today we see that Peter’s real intention was not to be a stumbling block so much as to try to protect Jesus from harm. We are inclined to think that Jesus is being a bit hard on poor Peter in order to stress very clearly what is going to happen and that anything that gets in its way is contrary to the will of his Father.

The underlying assumption of Peter is that suffering is bad and it is something that we should be protected from, and this is an assumption that we all share in our everyday lives. Christ, though, tells us something different; he tells us and shows us in his own life that suffering is redemptive. He tells us that suffering is essential to his work of salvation.

One of the greatest problems in the world is that people do not seem to understand this anymore. And indeed one of the most common arguments against the existence of God put forward by ordinary people today is that God allows the innocent to suffer. What they fail to take into account is that suffering has a meaning. They fail to understand that it is often only through suffering and struggle that a greater good can come about.

Now this is not to say that suffering and pain are good in themselves or we would feel obliged to flagellate ourselves every five minutes! No this would be a distortion of God’s intention. But we do know that in suffering there is something deeply mysterious, valuable and redemptive.

In time Peter was to come to understand the meaning of the Cross. We know that when faced with his own crucifixion at the hands of the Romans he asked to be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to imitate Christ.

There is another tradition which tells us of Peter leaving Rome to escape persecution and as he passes down the Via Appia meets Christ travelling in the opposite direction, towards Rome. He greets Christ with the words “Quo Vadis, Domine?” Where are you going, Lord? Only for Jesus to respond that he was going to Rome to be crucified once again. At which point Peter turned around and returned to the city to face his own death.

This little story might be apocryphal but there is something in it for each one of us. Our following of Christ will inevitably lead to the Cross and it is how we regard the Cross that will determine our response to it. We will then face the moment of truth; which we hope, with God’s help, will be the moment of our salvation.