Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We often read the Bible far too passively. The Scriptures are full of strong emotion, but we can forget that when we read it. Today’s second reading is a great example of that. In the second reading, St. Paul is pleading with the Philippians. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart.” This is not a passive reading. St. Paul is pouring his heart out. He is begging the Philippians. Notice that he starts by talking about the faith, “if there is any encouragement in Christ,” but by the end, he isn’t even talking about faith at all, just saying, “if there is any compassion and mercy.” He is begging them with everything in him. St. Paul is pleading with them that if there is anything worthwhile, not just in the Gospel but anything at all, to live in unity. This is not a small issue for St. Paul. Unity is a critical theme for him. He takes up the issue time and again in his writings, begging the churches to live in unity.

Unity is important for St. Paul because it was important for Christ. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’s final prayer at the Last Supper, the very last thing for which He prays before He and the Apostles leave for the Garden of Gethsemane, is for unity. He prays to the Father, praying that the Apostles may be one, just as He and the Father are one. He wants His followers to be united. Starting with Genesis and continuing through the entirety of Scripture, we see that division is the result of sin, while God seeks to create unity. Jesus’s mission was to conquer sin so that we can be reunited with the Father as well as with one another. And thus His final prayer before His Passion is for unity. St. Paul understood that unity was central to the Gospel and the mission of Christ, and that is why he pleads for it so earnestly in his letters. The Church cannot proclaim the unity that Jesus Himself came to establish if she herself is wracked by division.

            Unity is also a big issue in our world today. Division affects our church, our community, our nation, and even our families. Depending on which poll you look at, over 80% of Americans think our country is divided. You don’t have to look hard to find statements from politicians on both sides of the aisle lamenting the divisiveness in our country and calling for greater unity. Now, here’s the confusing part. If everyone agrees that division is a problem, why isn’t that problem solved? Again, we’re talking about over 80% of people. You can’t get over 80% of people to agree on anything. I could create a poll asking, “Is the sky blue?” and I probably wouldn’t get over 80% to agree. So if 80% of people agree that disunity is a problem, why isn’t there more unity? Because it is easy to talk about wanting unity and then turn around and create more division. We are the second son in the Gospel today, who says that he will do his father’s work but doesn’t do it. How many times have you heard people lament the lack of unity in our world only to immediately say, “Those people are the ones causing all the division?”

            So many people say that they want unity, but then actively create division. This happens in politics, but it happens in our families, in our community, in our Church, and even in our parish. I have often heard people say that they want more unity here in the parish, whether that is unity between the school and PSR, between the school community and the larger parish community, between younger parishioners and older parishioners, or between our English-speaking community and our Hispanic community. And yet, very often the people who say they want unity will then say that the way for unity to be achieved is for the other group over there to do something. I have often heard from English-speaking parishioners, “Father, I wish there was more unity between our Anglo and Hispanic communities. How do we get them to show up to our events?” I have never heard, “Father, I wish there was more unity between our Anglo and Hispanic communities. So I am going to go to their events.” I have often heard from families without school children, “I wish there was more unity between the school and the parish. How do we get the school families more involved?” I have never heard, “I wish there was more unity between the school and the parish. How do I get more involved with the school?” This happens in other contexts as well. We want unity in our family, but Uncle Joe is the one who needs to apologize. We want unity in our nation, but Republicans blame the Democrats for the lack of unity and Democrats blame the Republicans and neither do anything to actually work towards it. Division is always the other person’s fault, and building unity is always their responsibility. The Heavenly Father has sent us out to do His work of building Gospel unity, and like good sons and daughters we say, “Yes, Father,” but then we don’t do it, instead saying that someone else needs to do the work.

            So how do we actually build unity? St. Paul tells us. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” Do you want there to be more Gospel unity in our Church and our world? “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” Disunity is ultimately the result of sin, and at the heart of sin is pride. Pride says that I am better, that my needs are the most important, that my opinion is the only possible one. And so St. Paul tells us that, if you want to build unity, you must humbly regard others as more important than yourself.

            Humbly regard the relative who you are fighting with as more important than yourself. Humbly regard the neighbor who just gets on your nerves as more important than yourself. Humbly regard other groups in the parish – whether that is our Hispanic community or parishioners of a different age group or state in life – humbly regard them as more important than yourself. In the political realm, humbly regard those you disagree with as more important than yourself.

            Sound challenging? It is. Gospel unity is hard, because it pushes against our fallen humanity that seeks to create division, to justify ourselves, to always be right at the expense of others. And yet, as St. Paul reminds us, this is the example that Jesus Himself gives us. After telling the Philippians to humbly regard others as more important than themselves, he then tells them, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Jesus, God Himself, humbly regarded us as more important than Himself. Let me say that again. God, the infinite, omnipotent Creator, humbly regarded us, His sinful, fallen creatures, as more important than Himself. He did that to such a degree that, as St. Paul reminds us God the Son stripped Himself of glory, assumed our human nature, suffered and died o n a Cross for all sake. God did that for us. God regarded us as so much more important than Himself that He died – God, the source of life, died – for us. If that is how God treats us, if that is the lengths to which He is willing to go in order to reunite us with Himself, then we must also do the same for each other if we want to foster that unity.

            Here at this Eucharist, we participate in the very sacrifice of Christ through which He reunites us to the Father and to each other. In this Eucharist, Jesus once again humbly considers us as more important than Himself, willingly taking the simple appearance of bread and wine in order to come to us. Like the father in the Gospel parable, our Heavenly Father sends us, His children, out to do His work of building unity. We take what we receive here and the unity it creates and bring it to the world by imitating Christ in thinking of others as more important than ourselves.

XXV Domingo Ordinario

Imagínense una persona que vivió toda su vida dedicada al pecado. Se involucró en adulterio y embriaguez; se hizo rico mediante el engaño y las prácticas corruptas, y usó su dinero para cometer aún más inmoralidad. Hizo todo esto, no con vergüenza o secreto, sino con orgullo. Ni una sola vez pensó en Dios. Después de vivir toda su vida así, mientras agoniza, en su última hora tiene una conversión sincera, se arrepiente de su vida de pecado, recibe los sacramentos de la Iglesia, muere y va al cielo.

            ¿Cuál es tu reacción a eso? ¿Estás feliz de que este pobre pecador haya encontrado el amor y la misericordia de Dios y haya sido recibido en los brazos del Padre? ¿O estás celoso de que esta persona pueda disfrutar de todos los placeres del pecado y aún así recibir la vida eterna? ¿Estás enojado de que Dios sea tan misericordioso? ¿Hay una parte de ti que dice: “Si él puede ir al cielo conmigo, entonces de alguna manera el cielo significa menos para mí”?

            Aférrate a esa reacción. Nuestra lectura del evangelio hoy corta algo muy importante. Inmediatamente antes de que Jesús cuenta esta parábola, Pedro le dice a Jesús: “Hemos dejado todo y te hemos seguido. ¿Qué habrá para nosotros?” Como respuesta, Jesús cuenta esta parábola. Pongámonos dentro de la parábola. Imagina que eres el propietario que va a contratar trabajadores para tu viña. Llegas a la plaza y hay un grupo de personas esperando ser contratadas. ¿A quiénes eliges? Probablemente elijas a los más calificados, los más fuertes o los que mejor se adaptan al trabajo. Si hay personas en la plaza a las que ha contratado antes, y si fueron buenos trabajadores en el pasado, puedes elegirlas primero. Evitas elegir personas que parezcan inadecuadas para el trabajo. Puedes evitar a las personas que hicieron un mal trabajo en el pasado.

            En la parábola, el propietario vuelve a salir a media mañana, al mediodía, a media tarde y al caer la tarde. Para cuando llegue al caer la tarde, ¿quién se quedará parado en la plaza? Son todas las personas que fueron demasiado vagas para llegar a la plaza temprano en la mañana o que todos los demás pasaron por alto. Eso es lo que le dicen al propietario cuando les pregunta por qué se quedan sin hacer nada. “Porque nadie nos ha contratado”. Nadie los quería. Nadie pensó que contratarlos sería un buen negocio. Son los rechazados y lo saben.

            Entonces el propietario los contrata, aunque ya es tarde. ¿Cómo crees que se sienten los demás trabajadores cuando estos nuevos trabajadores, que habían pasado todo el día holgazaneando en la plaza, aparecen justo antes de la hora de salida? Imagina que eres uno de los primeros contratados. Tú eres un trabajador fuerte y calificado que trabaja duro para ser contratado todos los días y mantener a tu familia. Y ahora, con sólo una hora para trabajar, llegan estos otros que no han hecho nada en todo el día. Tal vez sean débiles, tal vez sean vagos, pero hay una razón por la que no fueron elegidos primero como tú. Imagino que la presencia de estos últimos llegados provocaría resentimiento entre los trabajadores “más calificados”.

            Ahora llegamos al clímax de la parábola. Es el momento de pagar a los trabajadores, y empiezan por los que habían llegado justo antes de que terminara la jornada. A pesar de trabajar solo una hora, se les paga el salario diario completo. Imagínese la alegría y la sorpresa de estos que llegan tarde, ya que se les paga mucho más de lo que ganan. Finalmente los que fueron contratados primero, que trabajaron doce horas de trabajo manual en el día caluroso, quienes fueron los trabajadores más calificados, se acercan a recibir su pago, y también reciben el salario diario completo.

            En este punto, ellos no tienen ninguna razón para estar enojados con el propietario. Se les prometió el salario de un día completo por un día completo de trabajo, y eso es lo que sucedió. No fueron engañados. Pero están furiosos. Están enojados porque a estos rezagados, a estos rechazados, a estos perezosos que llegaron al final, se les paga la misma cantidad. Se consideraban mejores que los otros trabajadores, pero se les ha tratado igual. Eso es lo que dicen en su denuncia. “Esos que llegaron al último sólo trabajaron una hora, y sin embargo, les pagas lo mismo que a nosotros”. Están enojados porque serían tratados como iguales a las personas a quienes menospreciaban. Ellos son los que trabajan duro. Son los que el propietario quería contratar de inmediato. Son superiores, en sus mentes, a estos últimos, y les molesta que los hagan sus iguales.

            ¿Recuerda qué motivó esta parábola? Pedro le pregunta a Jesús: “¿Cuál será nuestra recompensa por renunciar a todo para seguirte?” ¿Y la respuesta de Jesús? Serás igual a los que llegan en el último minuto. Ustedes que han trabajado incansablemente, que han soportado el calor del día, que han sufrido y trabajado en mi viña, su recompensa será la misma que aquellos que holgazanean todo el día y una hora antes de la noche dedicaron unos minutos de trabajo.

            ¡¿QUÉ?! Jesús realmente necesita un mejor equipo de mercadeo. Si quieres seguidores, normalmente no es efectivo decirles: “Tu recompensa por dedicar toda tu vida a seguirme será la misma que si esperas hasta el último minuto para seguirme”.

            Aquí es donde se aclaran las palabras de Dios al profeta Isaías en la primera lectura. “Mis pensamientos no son los pensamientos de ustedes, sus caminos no son mis caminos, dice el Señor”. Pensamos que quienes trabajan más deben recibir más. Pero, cuando hablamos de Dios, ¿recibir más de qué? ¿Más amor infinito? ¿Más felicidad perfecta? ¿Más vida eterna? ¿Cómo pueden algunos recibir más de lo que está más allá de toda medida? Piense en la persona en su lecho de muerte a quien yo mencioné al comienzo de la homilía. ¿Estabas celoso o enojado porque él pudo ir al cielo después de una vida llena de pecado e inmoralidad? Pero entonces, ¿qué debería pasar con él? ¿Lo condenarías al infierno, a pesar de su sincero arrepentimiento? ¿Ha disminuido el gozo que experimentarás en el cielo porque él también estará allí? ¿No debería añadirse realmente al gozo del cielo?

            Ahora, algunos de ustedes pueden estar pensando, “Espere un minuto, padre, si está diciendo que puedo vivir mi vida como quiera y luego, en el último minuto, puedo arrepentirme y aun así ir al cielo, entonces ¿por qué molestarme en ser bueno ahora? ¿Por qué no viviría una vida de pecado y libertinaje y planearía arrepentirme al final?” Yo he pensado lo mismo. Esas preguntas son comprensibles desde una perspectiva humana, pero también nos muestran lo poco que realmente entendemos de Dios. Si Dios es tan amoroso, tan misericordioso que muestra misericordia abundante incluso al pecador que experimenta un momento de conversión sincera, ¿no debería eso hacernos amarlo más a Dios?  Por ejemplo, si sabes que tu cónyuge te ama tanto que podrías cometer adulterio y aún te amaría, ¿no debería eso hacerte amarlo más y querer ser más fiel a él o ella, no menos? La gracia y misericordia de Dios deberían inspirarnos a amarlo más. Es la parte egoísta de nosotros la que quiere aprovechar el amor generoso, en lugar de responder de la misma manera.

            Nuestro Dios no solo ama a los mejores y más duros trabajadores. No solo es generoso con quienes se lo “ganan”. Dios ama a los perezosos, los marginados y los indeseables. Es generoso con aquellos que no han hecho nada para ganárselo, que, en realidad, somos todos nosotros, porque no importa cuánto trabajemos, nunca ganaremos ni mereceremos el amor de Dios. Nuestro Dios no es solo el Dios de los fuertes y populares, sino el Dios de los débiles y los rechazados. Y Dios nos pregunta: “¿Puedes regocijarte en mi amor? ¿Puedes regocijarte de que otorgue misericordia y gracia a aquellos que no trabajan tan duro como tú? ¿Puedes estar agradecido de que aquellos en quienes pensabas que eran menos que tú se hayan convertido en tus iguales? ¿O, egoístamente, intentarás guardarte mi amor para ti? ¿O vas a tenerme rencor porque yo soy bueno?”

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Imagine a person who lived their entire life dedicated to sin. They engaged in adultery and drunkenness; they became wealthy through deceit and corrupt business practices, and they used their money to commit even more immorality. They did all this, not with shame or secrecy, but boldly and proudly. Never once did they think of God. After living their entire life this way, they are on their death bed, and in their last hour they have a sincere conversion, repent of their life of sin, receive the sacraments of the Church, they die and go to heaven.

            What is your reaction to that? Are you happy that this poor sinner found the love and mercy of God and was received into the loving arms of the Father? Or are you jealous that this person got to enjoy all the pleasures of sin and still receive eternal life? Are you mad that God would be so merciful? Is there part of you that says, “If they get to go to heaven along with me, then somehow heaven means less to me?”

            Hold on to that reaction. Our reading cuts off something very important. Immediately before Jesus tells this parable, Peter says to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” As a reply, Jesus tells this parable. Let us put ourselves inside the parable. Imagine you are the landowner going to hire laborers for your vineyard. You arrive at the town square and there are a group of people waiting to be hired. Whom do you choose? You probably choose the people who you think are most qualified, the strongest or those best suited to the work. If there are people in the square whom you have hired before, and if they were good workers in the past, you pick them first. You avoid picking people who look unsuited for the work. You may avoid people with whom you had a bad experience in the past.

            In the parable, the landowner goes out again at nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock, and five o’clock. By the time it gets to five o’clock, who is going to be left standing around in the square? It’s all the people who either were too lazy to get to the square early in the morning or who everyone else passed over. That’s what they tell the landowner when he asks why they stand around idle. “Because no one has hired us.” No one wanted them. No one thought that hiring them would be a good deal. They’re the rejects, and they know it.

            So the landowner hires them, even though it is late in the day. How do you think the other workers feel as these new workers, who had spent all day lounging around in the town square, show up just before quitting time? Imagine you are one of the first ones hired. You are a strong, skilled laborer who works hard in order to get hired each day and provide for your family. And now, with only an hour left to work, these chuckleheads who have been doing nothing all day come rolling in. Maybe they’re weak, maybe they are lazy, but there is a reason they weren’t chosen first like you. Even before we get to the issue of payment, I imagine that the mere presence of these last arrivals would cause resentment among the “more qualified” workers.

            Now we come to the climax of the parable. It is time to pay the workers, and they start with the ones who had arrived right before the day ended. Despite only working for an hour, they are paid the full daily wage. Imagine the joy and surprise of these late arrivals as they are paid far more than they earned. Finally those who were hired first, who worked twelve hours of manual labor in the hot day, who were the most qualified workers, they come forward to receive their payment, and they also receive the full daily wage.

            At this point, they technically have no reason to be mad at the landowner. They were promised a full day’s wage for a full day’s work, and that is what happened. They were not cheated. They were given everything that they were promised. But they are mad. They aren’t mad because they were actually cheated out of anything or deceived. They are mad because these late comers, these rejects, these lazy workers who arrived at the very end are paid the same amount. They thought of themselves as better than the workers who arrived last, but they have been treated the same. That’s what they say in their complaint. “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us.” They are mad that they would be treated as equal to people whom they looked down upon. They are the hard workers. They are the ones that the landowner wanted to hire right away. They are superior, in their minds, to these last ones, and they resent being made their equals.

            Remember what prompted this whole parable? Peter asks Jesus, “What will our reward be for giving up everything to follow you?” And Jesus’s response? You will be made equal to those who sneak in at the very last minute. You who have worked tirelessly, who have borne the heat of the day, who have suffered and toiled in my vineyard, your reward will be the same as those who lounge around all day and an hour before evening put in a couple minutes of work.

            WHAT?! Jesus really needs a better marketing team, because that is not how to win friends and influence people. If you want followers, it is not normally effective to tell them, “Your reward for completely devoting your entire life to following me will be the same as if you wait until the very last minute to follow me.”

            This is where the words of the God to the prophet Isaiah in the first reading are made clear. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Our thoughts are that those who work harder should receive more. But, when we are speaking of God, more of what? More infinite love? More perfect happiness? More eternal life? How can some receive more of that which is beyond measure? Think back to the person on their deathbed whom I mentioned at the start of the homily. Were you jealous or angry that they got to go to heaven after a full life of sin and immorality? But then what should happen to them? Would you condemn them to Hell, in spite of their sincere repentance? Does the fact that they get to go to heaven in any way diminish the joy that you will experience in heaven? Should it not actually add to the joy of heaven?

            Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, father, if you’re saying that I can live my life however I want and then, at the very last minute, I can repent and still go to heaven, then why bother being good now? Why would I not just live a life of sin and debauchery and plan on repenting at the very end?” I have thought the same thing. Those questions are understandable from a human perspective, but they also show us how little we truly understand of God. If God is so loving, so merciful that He shows abundant mercy even to the wretched sinner who experiences one moment of sincere conversion, shouldn’t that make us love Him more? If you know that your spouse loves you so much that you could commit adultery and they would still love you, shouldn’t that make you love them more and want to be more faithful to them, not less? God’s abundant grace and mercy should inspire us to love Him more. It is the selfish part of us that wants to take advantage of generous love, rather than responding in kind.

            Our God doesn’t just love the best and hardest workers. He isn’t just generous to those who “earn” it. God loves the lazy, the outcasts, and the unwanted. He is generous to those who have done nothing to earn it, which, by the way, is all of us, because no matter how hard we work we will never earn or deserve God’s love. Our God is not just the God of the strong and the popular but the God of the weak and the rejects. And He asks us, “Can you rejoice in my love? Can you rejoice that I bestow mercy and grace on those who do not work as hard as you? Can you be thankful that those whom you thought of as less than you have been made your equals? Or will you, in selfishness, try to keep my love to yourself? Will you be envious because I am generous?”

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Many of us have been told since we were little kids that we are not supposed to get angry. Let’s take a minute to talk about anger. Anger is our natural response to injustice. Anger is that emotion that is meant to give us the courage and strength that we need to correct an injustice. We see Jesus become angry in the Gospel. Anger is not, objectively considered in itself, a bad thing.

            However, anger can quickly become sinful. The Book of Sirach in our first reading says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things.” This is not because anger in itself is bad but because our anger so often becomes sinful. For example, when someone cuts me off in traffic and I become anger, is my anger motivated by a true sense of justice? Not usually. My anger is because this person did something that inconveniences me, and my pride and ego assert themselves through anger. If our anger is motivated by pride, rather than a true sense of justice, that anger is sinful. Our anger can also lead us to overreact. When someone accidentally cuts me off in traffic and I respond by angrily tailgating them for the next ten miles, that is a sinful overreaction. Likewise, rather than truly working to correct an injustice, we can use our anger to attack the person who committed the injustice. Though anger, in itself and objectively considered, is not a bad thing, our own personal, subjective anger very often is. Our anger is so often disordered, motivated not by true injustice but by our own pride. We can ask ourselves, “Which is the greater injustice: the fact that so many people in the world today lack the basic necessities of life while others, like ourselves, have an excess, or someone cutting me off in traffic?” Clearly the former is an exponentially greater injustice. But of those two things, which one makes us angrier?

            When the author of Sirach says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things,” that is what he is talking about. He knows that our anger is so often not a righteous anger that points towards justice but a selfish, prideful, hurtful anger that is more concerned with asserting my own ego and getting revenge. I don’t know about you, but the words of Sirach are convicting. “Wrath and anger are hateful things,” he says. There is a lot of wrath and anger in our society right now, and let us not pretend for a minute that this is a problem that just exists out there. It is right here, in our hearts and in our churches. I would be embarrassed to tally up all the times I said something to or about someone in anger, or all the times I have posted something on social media in anger. I often tell myself in the moment that my anger is righteous and justified, but it very rarely is. And God’s word says that it is a hateful thing.

            The author of Sirach continues in a way that cuts to the heart. “Wrath and anger are hateful things,” he says, “yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Have you ever been there? Have you ever had that experience where not only are you mad at someone, but you want to stay angry? You don’t want them to apologize, you don’t want to forgive them, you just want to be angry. I’ve been there. Our anger becomes a twisted sort of security blanket that we wrap around our hearts and hug it tight. Our anger makes us feel strong. It makes us feel in control. And so we don’t want to let it go. This isn’t something that a lot of us talk about. We know we aren’t supposed to feel that way. But if we are honest, all of us at some time or another have probably done this. Some of us may still be doing it. Maybe it is a family member, a friend or former friend, a neighbor, a political figure, someone from our work – someone in our life with whom we are angry and we do not want to let that anger go. As the Book of Sirach says, we hug that anger tight. We try to excuse it. We say that the other person deserves it, that it is their fault. But really, we just don’t want to let go of the anger, because in a perverse way, we like being angry.

            But that anger is a poison in our souls. Sirach continues, “The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.” That is terrifying. I don’t want anyone remembering my sins in detail, and certainly not the Lord. I thought Scripture says that God forgives our sins, that He removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. But here he says if we are vengeful, not only does He remember our sins, but He remembers them in detail. Why? It is the same point that Jesus makes in the Gospel today with the parable of the unforgiving servant. “So will my heavenly Father do to you,” He says, referring to the punishment inflicted upon the unforgiving servant, “unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” When Jesus taught us to pray, He taught us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is a dangerous prayer. We are putting limits on God’s mercy. We are telling God, “I have sinned and need your mercy, but only forgive me to the extent that I forgive others.” Why would we say that? Why would Jesus tell us to say that? Why wouldn’t we say, “God, please forgive me as much as you can without any reference to my own lack of forgiveness towards others”?

            Imagine coming before the Cross of Christ and saying, “Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Please wash away all my sins in your abundant mercy. But I’m not going to forgive this person who made me angry.” That’s what happens when we refuse to forgive. Too often, when I ask God to forgive my sins, I forget the magnitude of what I am asking. Our sins are a debt that we can satisfy. We are the servant in the parable who owes the king a debt that we can never hope to pay back. God forgives that debt in the Blood of Christ. But that is a costly mercy. I am sinner in desperate need of the mercy of God which can only be found at the Cross. But if I am going to plead for mercy from God, knowing what that mercy cost Him, how can I refuse to be merciful towards others? How can I say, “Lord, your Son was sacrificed for my forgiveness, but I refuse to sacrifice my own wounded pride to forgive my brother or sister.”

            Now, even though I say that, I also know how hard it is to let go of my own anger at times. Even knowing the great mercy of God, there are times when I harbor grudges, when I hold my anger tight and don’t want to show mercy to others. I am the servant in the Gospel who has an unpayable debt forgiven but refuses to forgive the debt that another owes me. We need God. We need to cry out, “Lord, you tell me to forgive this person, but I can’t do it. I want to hug my anger tight. My anger makes me feel strong, Father. I can’t forgive, but You can. You know what this person did, Lord, you know what made me angry, but You forgive them. I can’t forgive them, but You can forgive them in me and through me, Lord. Give me the grace to let go of my anger, God. Teach me that true strength is found not in holding tight to my anger but in having the strength to let it go and forgive.”

            Who are the people in your life with whom you are angry? Offer them to the Lord here at this Mass. In this Eucharist we participate in the very sacrifice of Christ which won for us mercy and forgiveness. As we stand here at the foot of the Cross, bring to God anyone with whom you are angry. Bring Him your grudges and all the past hurts that you can’t let go of. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Let us not hold tight to our anger but be set free by the Lord’s kindness and mercy.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

            They say that there are two things you don’t talk about in polite company: religion and politics. I’ve never been accused of being polite company, so I’m going to talk about both. Especially as we approach another election cycle, it is not uncommon to hear people asking why the Church gets involved in public affairs. They will say things like, “You are free to believe whatever you believe, but don’t try to force your views on other people” or “You shouldn’t tell other people how to live their lives.” The basic idea is that we should all just live our lives however we want and let other people live their lives however they want.

            Of course, the reality is that no one actually believes that. If you knew that your neighbor was abusing their child, no one would argue that we shouldn’t try to stop them, no matter how much they think it is acceptable. If you know that someone is abusing their child and you said, “Well, I don’t want to tell them how to live or impose my beliefs on them,” everyone knows that would be deplorable. I hope that everyone would agree that we should force our views on that neighbor, no matter what they believe about what they are doing. We would all agree that we have a right to stop someone from harming themselves or others.

            The reality is that all sin is harmful. That is what makes it a sin in the first place. Sin isn’t arbitrary. The Church didn’t come up with a random list of things and say, “We don’t like these things; let’s call them sins.” Sins are things that are contrary to nature, and, as such, they are harmful. Whether it looks harmful on the outside, whether our society says that it is acceptable or not, every sin does harm to the person committing it and to other people. It doesn’t matter how much the person wants to do it, or how much society says that they have a right to do it, it is harmful to them and to others. And, as such, we have an obligation to stop them. In our first reading, the Lord tells Ezekiel that if he does not warn the sinner to turn from his ways, Ezekiel will be held responsible for their sins. The same is true for each of us. God has trusted us with His truth, not because we are better than other people, but because God in His providence has chosen us to share His truth. Like Ezekiel, this comes with the responsibility of sharing this truth. If we don’t speak up, if we don’t try to warn people about their sins, then we will be held morally responsible for those sins.

            Our Lord reiterates this in the Gospel. He does not say, “If your brother sins against you, just ignore him; he has the right to live as he pleases.” No, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him.” And if he won’t listen, tell him again. And if he still won’t listen, tell him again.

            This is not always easy. Sometimes it involves telling a close friend or a family member that something they are doing is sinful. This is difficult to do. This is why we need to have the right motivation. When we tell someone that what they are doing is sinful, we should never do it out of a sense of pride, nor because we are trying to put them down. We must do it out of love, which, as St. Paul tells us, is the fulfillment of the law. All sin is in some way an offense against love, and so the only way we can truly try to correct someone who is sinning is in love. Like a parent who loves their child enough to discipline them and tell them no, we must love other people enough to tell them that what they are doing is wrong and harmful to themselves and to others, and we, in love, want to see them living in a way that is not harmful.

This is true not only when dealing with people one-on-one, but also in the political realm. When we try to ensure that the laws of our country are in keeping with the moral law, we do it not because we want to force our opinions on other people but because we are called by Christ to love everyone, and so it is our responsibility and our desire to keep them from doing something harmful. In love, we want the laws of our country to guide people away from what is harmful and towards what is truly good for them. We want our political figures to encourage people towards moral behavior, not towards immorality. As Catholics, we should vote according to our faith, not because we are trying to set up a theocracy or force our opinions on other people, but because, in love, we want a political system that is moral and just and points people towards their greatest good. Our political engagement, including how we vote, should be motivated out of love, the fulfillment of the law.

            Voting out of love does not just mean voting according to Church teaching. Love is giving of ourselves for the good of other people. Our greatest example of love will always be the Cross, on which God gave everything He had out of love for us and for our salvation. We, too, are called to give of ourselves in love for other people. This is true in our political involvement as well, including when we vote. We should ask ourselves, “When I vote, am I voting out of love for others? Does my vote reflect a willingness to sacrifice for the good of other people, or is my voting primarily motivated by self-interest?” Our main consideration when we vote should not be how our vote will affect ourselves, but how it affects others, especially our brothers and sisters who are vulnerable or in need.

            There is one more thing that we need to remember about the intersection of our faith and politics. Our faith should inform our involvement in politics. And our faith tells us that every person, every single person, is created in the image and likeness of God, and it is our responsibility to treat people according to that image and likeness. Donald Trump was created in the image and likeness of God. Joe Biden was created in the image and likeness of God. Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez were created in the image and likeness of God. The people who are protesting in support of Black Lives Matters and the people who are protesting in opposition to them were all created in the image and likeness of God. Your neighbor or your family member or that person on Facebook whose politics are diametrically opposed to yours are created in the image and likeness of God. And our faith requires us to treat them according to the dignity that is theirs. The way we think about and talk about and treat people, including people whose politics are completely opposed to ours, should reflect the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God and that we are called to love them with the love of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but that is convicting to me, because I don’t always do that. I need to repent of the ways that I have thought and spoken about people with whom I disagree. Praise God that He is merciful, and gives us the grace to lift us up and make us live as His disciples, even in politics.

            Here in this Eucharist, we receive Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We receive God, who is Love. But we do not receive Him for ourselves alone. As we receive the One who is Love and Truth, we are called to take that love and truth out into the world so that it can be renewed. We know that Jesus alone saves us. Our hope does not lie in politicians or parties or policies. The Kingdom of God is not built by political means. But we are called to shape our world in accord with the Love and Truth of God, and that includes the political sphere. Our engagement in the political life of our country should reflect the fact that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. As we draw closer to the November elections, let us ask Jesus to fill us with His truth and love, so that we may bring that truth and love into our nation and our world.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

At my previous parish, there was a family with three adopted children. Their middle child was struck by a car and killed just days before his seventeenth birthday. The parents were devastated. A few days later, another parishioner told me that the mother had been in our parish adoration chapel the night before. “Father,” the parishioner said, “she was in the chapel, and she was just yelling.” The parishioner thought that the mother’s behavior was inappropriate, and they wanted me to correct her. I explained to them that if yelling was what the mother needed to do, then it was perfectly okay for her to yell.

Many people think that prayer has to be formal and dignified. We think that our private prayers should sound like the prayers in the liturgy. We think that there are things we aren’t allowed to say in prayer. We aren’t allowed to be mad at God, or to blame God, or to disagree with Him. That’s what many people think.

But that isn’t the example that Scripture gives us. In our first reading, Jeremiah is praying to God. Jeremiah has done everything God asked him to do, but in return he has faced persecution. The people have not listened to him or repented. He is frustrated, and so he cries out to God: “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” He is accusing God of deceiving him. He has followed the Lord’s command, and it has only brought him hardship. He is angry at God, and he tells God that directly. He goes on to say that he has considered giving up, no longer proclaiming the message that God gives him. He doesn’t worry about being nice. He speaks to God honestly.

We see something similar in the Gospel today. Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to suffer and be killed. Peter doesn’t like this, and he tells Jesus that. It is tempting to look down on Peter for this. But he is speaking honestly. I am sure that many of the other disciples also did not like the idea that Jesus was going to suffer and be killed, but, unlike Peter, they didn’t say anything. But Peter did. And although Jesus’s words to Peter seem harsh, they also help him to grow. Peter had a false understanding of Jesus that needed to be corrected. Because of Jesus’s correction, Peter is able to grow in his understanding of what Jesus’s mission truly is. If Peter hadn’t been honest with Jesus, his misconception would not have been corrected.

This is why it is also important for us to speak honestly with God in prayer. When we go to the doctor, we have to tell the doctor honestly what is wrong. Sometimes, that might be embarrassing. But if we don’t speak to the doctor honestly, if we succumb to the embarrassment and hide things to from the doctor, they won’t be able to treat us. We need God to heal our souls. We need Him to heal our anger, our jealousy, our sinfulness. But in order for God to heal those things, we first need to bring them to Him. If I hide those things from God because I am embarrassed or because I think that I’m not supposed to talk about those things in prayer, they will never be healed. They will become a wound in my soul that festers in the dark, rather than being healed in the light of God’s grace. In our second reading, St. Paul tells the Romans, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,”. But in order to be transformed, they first need to acknowledge what in them needs change and bring it to God, so that He can transform it. If St. Peter hadn’t spoken with Jesus honestly, his false ideas would not have been healed. Likewise, if we don’t speak to God honestly in prayer, bringing Him the parts of ourselves that need to be transformed, we also won’t be healed.

Do you ever feel angry with God? Tell Him that. Do you ever blame God for something? Tell Him that. We need to speak to God honestly in prayer. We should tell Him what our temptations and struggles are. What are the things that you want to do and you know that you shouldn’t, but you still do? Tell God about that. Don’t be embarrassed; don’t hide it; don’t use euphemisms. Speak to God honestly. If that means you have to yell at God, yell. If that means saying things that you think you shouldn’t say, say them anyways.

Right now, what is the one thing that you are most embarrassed or uncomfortable telling God about? What is the one thing that you think, “I cannot say this to God”? During the offertory, as the bread and wine are prepared, tell God about it. Speak to Him honestly in your heart. Bring that part of you and place it on the altar along with the bread and wine, so that His grace can transform it.

XXII Domingo Ordinario

En mi parroquia anterior, había una familia con tres hijos adoptados. Su hijo del medio fue atropellado por un automóvil y murió pocos días antes de cumplir diecisiete años. Los padres estaban devastados. Unos días después, otro feligrés me dijo que la madre estaba en la capilla de adoración de nuestra parroquia la noche anterior. “Padre”, dijo el feligrés, “ella estaba en la capilla y solo estaba gritando”. El feligrés pensó que el comportamiento de la madre era inapropiado y quería que yo la corrigiera. Le expliqué al feligrés que si gritar era lo que la madre tenía que hacer, estaba perfectamente bien que gritara.

Mucha gente piensa que la oración debe ser formal y digna. Creemos que nuestras oraciones privadas deben sonar como las oraciones de la liturgia. Creemos que hay cosas que no podemos decir en oración. No nos permitimos estar enojados con Dios, o culpar a Dios, o estar en desacuerdo con Él. Eso es lo que piensa mucha gente.

Pero ese no es el ejemplo que nos da la Escritura. En nuestra primera lectura, Jeremías está orando a Dios. Jeremías ha hecho todo lo que Dios le pidió que hiciera, pero a cambio ha enfrentado persecución. La gente no lo escuchó ni se arrepintió. Frustrado, Jeremías clama a Dios: “Me sedujiste, Señor, y me dejé seducir; fuiste más fuerte que yo y me venciste. He sido el hazmerreír de todos; día tras día se burlan de mí”. Está acusando a Dios de engañarlo. Ha seguido el mandamiento del Señor y solo le ha traído dificultades. Está enojado con Dios y se lo dice a Dios directamente. Continúa diciendo que ha considerado darse por vencido, ya no proclama el mensaje que Dios le da. No se preocupa por ser amable. Habla con Dios con honestidad.

Vemos algo similar en el Evangelio de hoy. Jesús les dice a los discípulos que va a sufrir y morir. A Pedro no le gusta esto y le dice a Jesús eso. Es tentador despreciar a Peter por esto. Pero está hablando con honestidad. Estoy seguro de que a muchos de los otros discípulos tampoco les gustó la idea de que Jesús iba a sufrir y morir, pero, a diferencia de Pedro, no dijeron nada. Pero Peter lo hizo. Y aunque las palabras de Jesús a Pedro parecen duras, también lo ayudan a crecer. Pedro tenía un entendimiento falso de Jesús que necesitaba ser corregido. Gracias a la corrección de Jesús, Pedro puede crecer en su comprensión de cuál es realmente la misión de Jesús. Si Pedro no hubiera sido honesto con Jesús, su idea errónea no se habría corregido.

Por eso también es importante que hablemos honestamente con Dios en oración. Cuando vamos al médico, tenemos que decirle con sinceridad lo que está mal. A veces, eso puede ser vergonzoso. Pero si no hablamos con el médico con honestidad, si sucumbimos a la vergüenza y le ocultamos cosas al médico, no podrá tratarnos.

También, necesitamos a Dios para sanar nuestras almas. Lo necesitamos para sanar nuestra ira, nuestra envidia, nuestra pecaminosidad. Pero para que Dios pueda sanar esas cosas, primero debemos llevárselas a Él. Si oculto esas cosas a Dios porque me da vergüenza o porque creo que no debería hablar de esas cosas en oración, nunca se curarán. Se convertirán en una herida en mi alma que se pudre en la oscuridad, en lugar de ser sanada a la luz de la gracia de Dios. En nuestra segunda lectura, San Pablo les dice a los romanos, “dejen que una nueva manera de pensar los transforme internamente”. Pero para ser transformados, primero necesitan reconocer lo que en ellos necesita cambiar y llevarlo a Dios, para que Él pueda transformarlo. Si San Pedro no hubiera hablado con Jesús honestamente, sus falsas ideas no se habrían curado. Del mismo modo, si no hablamos con Dios honestamente en oración, llevándole las partes de nosotros mismos que necesitan ser transformadas, tampoco seremos sanados.

¿Alguna vez te has enojado con Dios? Dile eso. ¿Alguna vez culpas a Dios por algo? Dile eso. Necesitamos hablar con Dios honestamente en oración. Debemos decirle cuáles son nuestras tentaciones y luchas. ¿Cuáles son las cosas que quiere hacer, y sabe que no debe hacer, pero aún lo hace? Dile a Dios sobre eso. No se avergüence; no lo ocultes; no uses eufemismos. Habla con Dios con honestidad. Si eso significa que tienes que gritarle a Dios, grita. Si eso significa decir cosas que cree que no debería decir, dígalas.

En este momento, ¿qué es lo que más te avergüenza o te incomoda de contarle a Dios? ¿Qué es lo que piensas, “No puedo decirle esto a Dios”? Durante el ofertorio, mientras se preparan el pan y el vino, cuéntaselo a Dios. Habla con Él honestamente en tu corazón. Trae esa parte de ti y colócala en el altar junto con el pan y el vino, para que Su gracia pueda transformarla.

XXI Domingo Ordinario

¿Qué es la Iglesia? ¿Cómo respondería a esa pregunta? Mucha gente piensa en la Iglesia como una institución humana. Piensan que es algo que se creó a lo largo de la historia. Algunas personas, incluso algunos cristianos, piensan que la Iglesia es algo negativo. Piensan que podríamos seguir mejor a Jesús sin la Iglesia, que la religión organizada se opone a seguir a Jesús.

La Iglesia no es una invención humana. Jesús creó a la Iglesia. Él dice en el evangelio hoy, “Sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia.” Jesús dice clara e incuestionablemente que está construyendo una Iglesia, una comunidad de creyentes. La Iglesia no puede obstaculizar el seguimiento de Jesús, porque Jesús construyó la Iglesia. ¿Qué es la Iglesia? Es la comunidad que Jesús mismo fundó para aquellos que lo siguen.

El Evangelio no nos enseña solo que la Iglesia fue fundada por Jesús, sino que también revela qué tipo de Iglesia es. Lo que vemos más obviamente es que la Iglesia que Jesús creó tiene una jerarquía. “Tú eres Pedro y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia.” El nombre “Pedro” en griega está relacionado con la palabra para piedra o roca. Desde este momento en el evangelio y en el Nuevo Testamento, vemos que Pedro tiene primacía en la Iglesia. A mucha gente no le gusta la idea de jerarquía. Como cultura que valora el individualismo y la igualdad, no nos gusta la autoridad o la idea que alguien puede estar sobre nosotros. Pero Jesús deja claro que, en la Iglesia que está construyendo, hay una jerarquía. La jerarquía de la Iglesia no es algo que se inventó más tarde; está aquí desde el principio.

Algunas personas han argumentado que Jesús en realidad no tenía la intención de darle primacía a Pedro. Argumentan que la palabra griega para Pedro es “Petros,” mientras la palabra para roca es “petra.” Es verdad que son palabras diferentes, pero hay una explicación simple. La palabra para roca, “petra,” es femenina, como “roca” o “piedra” en español. No llamarías “Petra” a un hombre, porque esa sería un nombre femenino. “Petros” es la forma masculina. Ademas, sabemos por el Nuevo Testamento que Jesús no usó el griego “Petros,” sino que usó la palabra aramea “Kepha,” que también significa roca. En arameo, no hay diferencia entre el nombre Kepha y la palabra para roca. Lo que Jesús dijo literalmente fue: “Tú eres Roca, y sobre esta roca edificaré mi Iglesia.” Es claro que San Pedro es la roca sobre la cual está edificando Su Iglesia.

El hecho de que Pedro sea la roca no significa que él sea perfecto. San Pedro cometió muchos errores. Jesús sabía que Pedro no era perfecto. Pero seguía siendo Pedro, la roca. Asimismo, a lo largo de la historia ha habido Buenos papas y malos papas. Los papas no son perfectos, como tampoco lo fue San Pedro. Pero siguen siendo el papa. Los obispos y sacerdotes de la Iglesia no son perfectos, pero todavía se les ha confiado un papel en la Iglesia, como lo fueron Pedro y los Apóstoles. La jerarquía de la Iglesia contiene personas imperfectas y pecadoras. Pero todavía está claro que Jesús quería que la Iglesia tuviera una jerarquía. Esa jerarquía ha continuado hasta hoy en una línea ininterrumpida. Sabemos que pertenecemos a la Iglesia de Cristo porque pertenecemos a la Iglesia que mantiene la jerarquía que Él estableció.

La segunda cosa que aprendemos sobre la Iglesia es que está protegida. “Los poderes del infierno no prevalecerán sobre ella.” Jesús establece una Iglesia con una jerarquía compuesta por seres humanos, pero Él  no deja que su propio poder la proteja. Más bien, la Iglesia es protegida por Dios y nunca caerá ante los poderes del mal. A lo largo de la historia, desde sus inicios hasta nuestros días, la Iglesia ha enfrentado pruebas y persecuciones. Los gobiernos han intentado de diversas formas para destruir a la Iglesia o someterla a su autoridad, pero la Iglesia persiste. También, la Iglesia ha enfrentado conflictos, disturbios, y disensiones internas y, sin embargo, se mantiene y seguirá. Los poderes del infierno nunca han prevalecido y nunca prevalecerán contra la Iglesia de Cristo. Esto debería darnos seguridad. Mientras pertenezcamos a la Iglesia que Jesús fundó, sabemos que no seremos vencidos.

La tercera cosa que aprendemos sobre la Iglesia en el evangelio hoy es que tiene autoridad. “Yo te daré las llaves del Reino de los cielos; todo lo que ates en la tierra, quedará atado en el cielo, y todo lo que desates en la tierra, quedará desatado en el cielo”. Esta es una alusión a nuestra primera lectura del profeta Isaías, donde el Señor, al hablar de darle autoridad a Eleacín, dice, “Pondré la llave del palacio de David sobre su hombro. Lo que él abra, nadie lo  cerrará; lo que él cierre, nadie lo abrirá.” Jesús le está dando a Pedro, y por extensión a la Iglesia, la autoridad para hablar y trabajar en Su nombre. A veces hay personas que se quejan de la Iglesia. “¿Por qué debería escuchar a los obispos? ¿Quién se cree el Papa que es para decirme qué hacer? No estoy de acuerdo con la Iglesia en esto o aquello”. Pero debemos recordar que el Papa y los obispos no actúan por sí mismos. Jesús mismo les ha dado autoridad. Rechazar a la autoridad de la Iglesia es rechazar a Jesús, quien le dio autoridad a la Iglesia.

Jesús creó una Iglesia, con jerarquía y autoridad. No podemos seguir a Cristo y oponernos a la religión organizada, porque Jesús establece un Iglesia organizada. También promete que la Iglesia que creó estará protegida. Deberíamos estar agradecidos por esto. Imagínense si no hubiera Iglesia, si cada uno de nosotros tuviera que descubrir por nosotros mismos quién es Jesús y cómo seguirlo. Imagínense si no tuviéramos a nadie a quien hacer preguntas, nadie que nos alienta cuando lo necesitemos, que nos corrija cuando nos descarriamos y que se regocije con nosotros cuando crecemos como discípulos. Demasiados cristianos tienen solo una conexión tenue con la Iglesia. Asisten a misa, y toleran que otras personas estén allí porque tienen que  hacerlo, pero son básicamente individualistas en la fe. Eso no es lo que Jesús quiere para nosotros. Quiere que seamos parte integral de la comunidad de Su Iglesia. Y, sí, esto significa que tenemos que ser obedientes a la jerarquía que Él estableció y la autoridad que Él le dio a Su Iglesia. Pero también significa que estamos protegidos por Su promesa de salvaguardar la Iglesia. Hoy, demos gracias a Jesús por el don de la Iglesia y volvamos a comprometernos con esta institución divina.

 

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

What is the Church? How would you answer that question? Many people think of the Church as basically a human institution. They think that it is something that was created over the course of history. Some people, even some Christians, think that the Church is a negative thing. They think that organized religion gets in the way of following Jesus, and that we could follow Jesus better without the Church.

The Church is not a human invention. Jesus created the Church. He says in the Gospel today, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus clearly and unquestionably says that He is building a Church, a community of believers. The Church cannot get in the way of following Jesus, because Jesus built the Church. What is the Church? It is the community which Jesus Himself founded for those who follow Him.

The Gospel today not only teaches us that the Church was founded by Jesus but also reveals what kind of Church it is supposed to be. The thing that we see most clearly in the Gospel today is that the Church which Jesus is building has a hierarchy. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The name “Peter” in Greek is related to the Greek word for rock. From this point on in the Gospel and in the New Testament, we see that Peter has primacy in the Church. We don’t always like the idea of hierarchy. As a culture that values individualism and equality, we don’t like authority or the idea that someone may be over me. But Jesus makes it clear that, in the Church He is building, there is a hierarchy. Again, that is not something that was invented later; it is here at the very beginning.

Some people have tried to argue that Jesus did not actually intend to give Peter primacy. They argue that the Greek word for Peter is “petros,” while the word for rock is “petra.” The difference is easily explained though. The word for rock, “petra,” is a feminine noun. Peter couldn’t have been called “Petra,” as that would be seen as a female name, so the masculine form, “Petros,” is used. In addition, we know from the New Testament that Jesus did not actually use the Greek “Petros” but rather used the Aramaic word “Kepha,” which also means rock. In Aramaic, there is no difference between the name Kepha and the word for rock. What Jesus literally said was, “You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church,” which makes it clear that St. Peter is the rock upon which He is building His church.

The fact that Peter is the rock does not mean that Peter is perfect. St. Peter made lots of mistakes. Jesus knew that Peter was not perfect. But he was still Peter, the rock. Likewise, throughout history there have been good popes and bad popes. The popes are not perfect, just as St. Peter was not perfect. But they are still the pope. The bishops and priests of the Church are not perfect, but they are still entrusted with a role in the Church, just as Peter and the Apostles were. The hierarchy of the Church contains flawed, sinful people. But it is still clear that Jesus intended the Church to have a hierarchy. That hierarchy has continued to this present day in an unbroken line. We know that we belong to the Church of Christ because we belong to the Church that carries on the hierarchy which He established.

The second thing that we learn about the Church is that it is protected. “The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Jesus establishes a Church with a hierarchy composed of human beings, but He does not leave it just to their own power to protect it. Rather, the Church is protected by God and will never fall to the powers of evil. Through history, from its very beginning to the present day, the Church has faced countless trials and persecutions. Governments have tried in various ways to destroy the Church or to subject her to their authority, but still the Church persists. The Church has also faced conflict, turmoil, and dissension from within, and yet it stands and will continue to stand. The gates of the netherworld have never prevailed and will never prevail against the Church of Christ. This should give us a sense of assurance. As long as we belong to the Church that Jesus founded, we know that it shall not be overcome.

The third thing that we learn about the Church in the Gospel today is that it has authority. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is an allusion to our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, where the Lord, in speaking of giving Eliakim authority, says, “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open.” Jesus, in speaking such, is giving Peter, and by extension the Church, the authority to speak and work in His name. Sometimes people will complain about the Church. “Why should I listen to the bishops?” “Who does the Pope think he is to tell me what to do?” “I don’t agree with the Church on this or that.” But we have to remember that the Pope and the bishops do not just act on their own. They have been given authority by Jesus Himself. To reject the authority of the Church is to reject Jesus, who gave the Church authority.

Jesus clearly intended to create a Church, with a hierarchy and authority. We cannot follow Jesus and be opposed to organized religion, because Jesus clearly establishes an organized Church. He also promises that the Church which He created will be protected. We should be thankful for this. Imagine if there was no Church, if each of us had to figure out for ourselves who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Imagine if we had no one to ask questions, no one to encourage us when we needed encouragement, to correct us when we go astray, and to rejoice with us when we grow as disciples. Unfortunately, far too many Christians have only a tenuous connection to the Church. They show up for Mass, and they tolerate other people being there because they have to, but they are basically lone rangers in the faith. That is not what Jesus wants for us. He wants us to be fully part of the community of His Church. And, yes, this means that we have to be obedient to the hierarchy He established and the authority which He gave His Church. But it also means that we are protected by His promise to safeguard the Church. Today, let us give thanks to Jesus for the gift of the Church and recommit ourselves to this divine institution.

Twentieth Sunday In Ordinary Time

There is a technique in storytelling called “show, don’t tell.” The idea is that instead of the author simply telling the audience something, they should show it by means of the action. As the playwright Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Show don’t tell is also used in education. A teacher can tell students something, but it is much more effective, and more memorable, to show them.

In the Gospel today, Jesus uses a “show, don’t tell” method of teaching His disciples. He knows that, as Israelites, they harbored a sense of superiority. They would have thought of themselves as special, as God’s chosen people. Like other Israelites, they would have harbored prejudice against the Gentiles, that is, all non-Israelite peoples. Jesus could have simply told them, “God loves all people. Your prejudice against Gentiles is wrong. In fact, there are Gentiles who have great faith.” But He knew that it would be more effective to show them, which He does by means of the Canaanite woman.

We need to take a minute to marvel at this woman. For a woman to be out yelling for someone in public, especially a man, would have been seen as disgraceful. And here we have a Canaanite woman calling out to a Jewish rabbi. She calls Him “Lord” and “Son of David.” She is not Jewish, and yet she bestows on Jesus these honorific titles. This woman is making a humiliating spectacle of herself. Why? Because of how much she loves her daughter. Her daughter is suffering, and, as a mother, her love for her daughter makes her willing to do anything and everything if it might help her.

In response, the disciples urge Jesus, “Send her away.” They are displaying their prejudice. They don’t want this Canaanite woman around, and they certainly don’t want Jesus to help her. And Jesus, rather than correct them, reflects their prejudice back to them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We know that is not true. Jesus has already ministered to non-Israelites in the Gospel. His mission was for all people. Remember, they are in the area of Tyre and Sidon, large Canaanite cities. Going to Tyre and Sidon while trying to avoid Canaanites would be like going to Toronto but trying to avoid Canadians. But His statement would have reflected the beliefs of the disciples. They would have thought of the messiah as our messiah, the Jewish messiah, sent only to and for them.

As the woman continues to call out after Him, He says to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” This seems harsh to us, but to the disciples they probably would have thought nothing of referring to Canaanites as “dogs.” Canaan was the historical rival of Israel. The Israelites vilified the Canaanites for their pagan beliefs and practices and their immorality. Jesus could have just said to the disciples, “I know that you have prejudice against this woman because she is a Canaanite, but she actually has great faith.” But rather than tell them that, He is providing the woman an opportunity to show it.

She replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” There is a wordplay here in the original Greek of the New Testament. When Matthew says that the woman “did homage” to Christ, the Greek word is proskunéo. This comes from the prefix pros and the word kúon, which means “dog.” To do homage, to worship, is, in the Greek, to be like a dog. Think of a dog sitting at his master’s side, begging for treats or attention, wanting to please his master. So, when the woman willingly takes on herself being called a dog, she is just acknowledging that all of us, when we come to worship God and give Him homage, are proskunéo, we are like dogs begging from the table of our Master.

And now Jesus steps in, like a good teacher, to ensure that the disciples learned the lesson. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” He commends her faith, because she truly recognizes what it means to worship. Last week, we heard Jesus reproach the disciples for their lack of faith. But for this Canaanite, this pagan, Gentile woman, He praises her great faith. In so doing, He is correcting the prejudice of His disciples, not directly, but by showing them. He is teaching them that the faith is not just for a specific group of people but for everyone.

This is a central message of the Gospel. God’s salvation is available to all. It transcends nationality, culture, race, age, or personality. God’s salvation transcends all differences and divisions. We see hints of this even in the Old Testament. In our first reading, the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him [and] my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” In ancient Israel, Gentiles were forbidden from even entering the Temple, much less ministering there. But the Lord speaks of a time when people from all nations will worship in His house and minister there. This was fulfilled in the Church. In the second reading today, St. Paul speaks of his ministry and mission to the gentiles, bringing the Good News to those who were previously excluded.

This is why the Church is called Catholic, because it is not just the church of a particular group but it is a universal church. It is important for us to remember that we do not belong to an American Church or to a Western European Church, we belong to the Catholic Church. Our Church is not just for a certain group of people. It is not just for people who look like me or talk like me. It is not just for people who live like I do or whose culture is similar to mine. God calls all people to Himself. He seeks to break down the barriers that exist in our hearts, just as He broke down the barrier in the hearts of His disciples that caused them to look down upon the Canaanite woman.

But that is a challenge to us. When someone shows up to Mass who doesn’t look like they fit in, whether because of their race or their manner of dress or whatever reason, how do we treat them? Do we make sure they are welcome, or do we stare and whisper? In my homilies, I have often challenged you to invite someone to Mass with you. But I know that very few people do it. We lock the faith away and only share it with a select group of people. Often, we make an excuse. “I don’t know anyone whom I could invite.” Really? We don’t know anyone at all who doesn’t already attend Mass regularly every Sunday? Of course that’s not true. When we say that we don’t know anyone whom we could invite to Mass, what we mean is that we can’t think of anyone who doesn’t fit into our preconceived idea of the kind of person we should invite. And rather than allow God to push past our barriers, we say that we don’t know anyone we could invite.

The Canaanite woman would not have fit in the disciples’ ideas of what a faithful person was like. But by means of her Jesus shows the disciples that faith is not limited by their prejudices. Often, when people do make the effort to speak about the faith with someone who falls outside of their definition of what a faithful person is, they are surprised by the faith that the person already has, much like the Canaanite woman. In the Creed we profess that we believe in a church that is catholic. But that belief is also a mission to us to make sure that we do not limit the faith by our own prejudices and preconceived ideas. It is a challenge to us to go and make disciples of all nations. Each and every one of us, by virtue of our baptism and confirmation, are given the task of preaching to the Good News to all people, not just a select few. May we be faithful to the task that Jesus gives us, so that this house can truly be a house of prayer for all people.