Saturday, November 21, 2020

Christ the same yesterday and today and forever (Christ the King 2020)


I had two American icons on my mind during this wild week. On Thursday, I thought about Yogi Berra, who I must explain for the benefit of the younger members of the congregation was a famous baseball player and coach in New York, not a cartoon character.

Yogi Berra said many memorable things, but my favorite was “It’s like déjà vu all over again!”

Déjà vu all over again. That sums it up. Hearing that Mass was again closed to the public brought back painful memories from last March. It also was a harsh reminder that our view of the pandemic was too optimistic.

I must have New York on the brain, because the second American I thought about was the Broadway actress Elaine Stritch. In one of my favorite YouTube videos, the elderly star sings Stephen Sondheim’s show tune “I’m Still Here.”

When she belted out, “Good times and bad times, I've seen them all. And, my dear, I'm still here she could look back at a pretty rough life. But she sang the last line of the song like a survivor. I got through all of last year, and I'm here.

On our parish feast day, we can certainly join in that chorus. We haven’t got through a year yet but we’re still here.

We’re still a strong loving community, praying and serving in new ways. We’re still here for one another and for those in need. And we’re still here around the altar, even virtually.

Yesterday I baptized the first child of a young couple whom I’d married a couple of years ago. Their wedding was like no other: they had their own private pandemic! Almost everyone in the wedding party and many members of the family fell victim to a virus. 

It wasn’t, of course, the dreaded COVID-19 but good ol’ fashioned Norovirus. Which may not be as serious but is probably more infectious. People came straight from the emergency room to the church for a wedding that started two and a half hours late.

Yesterday, for a second time, the young couple were the victims of a virus – although perfectly healthy they were able to have only 9 guests at the baptism.

It would be easy to feel sorry for Damian and Erin. But don't be too quick to feel sorry. At both the wedding and the baptism, the circumstances required them to focus only on what matters most, the sacraments themselves. And that was a great blessing.

You’d think that was enough drama for one week. But before Dr. Bonnie Henry stopped speaking, I realized that the December 11 ordination of our own Deacon Richard Conlin might also face the 10-person limit. But there, too, is a challenge to go to the heart of the matter, however much we sympathize with his situation.

Like the young couple and their families, and Deacon Richard and his, our whole parish community has been challenged to focus on what matters most.

What does matter most? Is it the spirit of community? Is it the spirit of service? Is it the liturgy?

There can only be a one-word answer. That word is Jesus. Almost every aspect of church life can fall victim to external changes. But the King whom we celebrate today “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

We can be cut off from one another. We can be deprived of the sacraments. But no external force can exile us from the Kingdom of God to which we are called in baptism.

Our second reading provides ample scriptural evidence of the Lordship of Christ our Redeemer. It leaves us in no doubt that all of history, including our recent history, is moving toward the day when the Son hands over to the Father the work He has completed.

Elsewhere, St. Paul asks, “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” He answers, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35;38-39)

Brothers and sisters, we are being tested. So far it has not been the testing by fire that many endured in Britain and Europe as the bombs fell during the Second World War. It’s not an endurance test, at least not yet.

What’s being tested is our faith – not so much what we believe but how we live what we believe. How have we responded to our temporary freedom from the legal obligation to attend Sunday Mass? Has it been, at least some of the time, a relief? 

Have we renewed or relaxed our dedication to Christ during these past months?

It’s too early to predict the future of our parish. It’s difficult to know whether the numbers who have responded to our “Every parishioner, every Sunday” initiative when added to those watching the livestream equal the ordinary Sunday congregation for the pandemic.

We may, for all I know, be in the process of becoming the smaller but holier church that the future Pope Benedict predicted in 1969 when he wrote, “But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”

One thing I know for sure: we’re still here. Christ the Redeemer Parish continues to strive to bring people closer to Jesus. We’ve neither abandoned our enthusiasm for evangelization nor given up our dedication to forming intentional disciples.

Some of the things we did in the past have become more difficult during the pandemic but others, thanks to the wonders of online meetings, have become easier.

When we are convinced that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, we proclaim Him, one way or another.

When we are convinced that He is the King who will judge us on how we treated Him in our brothers and sisters, we serve Him, one way or another.

The expectations of Christ our King seem high. Who among us can feed the poor, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner? I don’t know about you but if I did all that I would not have time to eat.

The marvelous thing about this parish community is that it does all those things, all the time. As our annual report makes clear, each one of these ministries is accomplished by one group of parishioners or another. And what some do with the support of all, all do.

Notice carefully that those on the left and those on the right hand of the Son of Man both ask Him, “When was it when we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?” Both the sheep and the goats wonder when it was that they acted or failed to act.

You may not even have realized that you were caring for Christ in his brothers and sisters.

You may have been thinking only of refugees, shut-ins, children preparing for sacraments, men at the hostel, women in the downtown Eastside, lonely parishioners, or men and women in prisons. 

Yet all the while, it was Christ Himself whom you – we – were supporting, teaching, feeding, and encouraging. What a sacred enterprise a parish can be!

We did a fair bit of planning for this parish feast day and I was pretty disappointed that we could not be together. But it’s a blessing to the extent that these painful circumstances challenge us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, so we can “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Like you I am very sorry about the restrictions and limitations we are facing as a church community. But please don’t tell me any of this can make us lose sight of Jesus.

God has a plan. Not my plan, not your plan, not Dr. Bonnie Henry’s plan. It’s a plan to restore all things in Christ – to seek out the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured. It’s a plan to draw us all into the Kingdom of God, where Christ is King forever.

 

 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Be Ready... Not Surprised (33.A)

There are few things less surprising than surprise parties. At least before the pandemic, if your fiftieth birthday is a day away and your wife hasn’t announced any plans, prepare to be surprised—or not!

I was given a surprise party once, and one of my friends said “you know, I was almost sure you’d figured it out, but when I saw the look on your face I knew we’d kept it a surprise.”

I’d known about the party for weeks. Appearing in all those school plays taught me a thing or two about acting.

The Scriptures today tell us that the end of the world—and the end of our lives—is something like most surprise parties: we know it’s going to happen, but we’re not sure exactly when. So even though our meeting with our Master will come as a surprise, it should not be a total surprise.

And that’s not all we learn from God’s word this morning. Although the connection between the readings isn’t obvious, taken together they tell us how to get ready and how to wait peacefully.

St. Paul tells us that the fact the world’s ending and our own death will come as a surprise doesn’t mean we should live in fear. We shouldn’t be anxious or worried, either about the day of the Lord or about our last days.

He reminds us “We are children of the light!” We’re not walking in the darkness but in the light of Christ. We are called to be wide awake and ready—ready even to be judged.

So how does this work?  How do we stay peaceful even in the face of God’s judgment?

With some help from the first reading, today’s Gospel answers the questions in a word. The word is stewardship.

In their magnificent pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response the American bishops wrote “Good stewards live with joy and gratitude for the blessings they have received—including those they have multiplied through diligence and hard work.”

And “good stewards live in communion with Christ and through Christ and the Spirit strive to return all gifts to the Father ‘with an increase.’”

That’s exactly what Jesus teaches about stewardship in this parable.

He’s telling us what the Master will expect on the day we stand before him. And knowing what he expects allows us to live with joy and gratitude, always eager to return God’s gifts to him, with interest.

Two points stand out. First, God does expect a return on his gifts. That shouldn’t surprise us. In the first chapter of the first book the Bible, God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply—not because he needs that but because they do.

A narrow, nervous, timid, unproductive life is not for Christ’s disciples. If we live like the one-talent slave we will be weeping in the outer darkness when we realize what we have missed and how we failed, not because God is an angry master.

In a certain sense, stewardship is its own reward. And our failure to live as stewards of God’s gifts is its own punishment. We see that clearly when we fail to be stewards of the earth.

The second lesson, of course, is that the return God expects is in proportion to the spiritual and intellectual gifts he's given us. He doesn't expect the same homily from me as he does from Bishop Barron. (And neither should you!)

It’s a fluke that the money in our parable is called talents (it’s a weight, not a coin).  I don’t suppose the story works so well in all languages.  But that’s just as well since it's not just our talents and gifts that govern God’s expectations of us: it's our circumstances as well.

Does God expect the same amount of service to the Church and the poor from someone with five children as he does with one?

In the Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales points out that holiness is for everyone, although it will look different in different circumstances.

He says it’s laughable to think a bishop should live a solitary life like a hermit, or married people own no more property than a Franciscan.

But holiness is a universal, common, call. The Second Vatican Council taught that every one of the baptized, in every state in life, is called to holiness—holiness, which is the only return on investment God is concerned about.

Today's first reading and psalm show us that holiness can look quite ordinary.  Holiness is doing the little things well, for the love of God.  A famous architect said, "God is in the details," and that applies to holiness.

The capable wife in Proverbs is not Mother Theresa of Calcutta. True, she seems to get a lot more done in a day than I do, but it's ordinary stuff.  She's not leading Israel into battle or nursing the dying; she is simply industrious, generous, and wise.  She does the daily round perfectly and thus, in Christian spirituality, she is perfect, holy.

We don't find out as much about her husband in the psalm, but here too we see what holiness can look like: respecting the Lord and his law, making an honest living, and living family life in peace.

Whether you’re young or old, male, or female, married or single, the Word of God is telling us that the time for holiness is now, not later. God expects it. 

And the way to holiness is found in your circumstances, your trials, your opportunities, your challenges, and, yes, your talents.

All of this would be important to think about at any time of the year. But this is not just any time—we’re almost at the end of the liturgical year, closing in fast on Advent. The end of the Church year is the time when we hear about the last things, about judgment, about heaven and hell.

We heard these readings today for a particular reason: so we could take stock, so we could ask ourselves how we are doing as stewards of God’s many gifts—and think about the day when God himself is going to ask for our account.

Let’s not be taken by surprise.

 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Looking Forward to the Resurrection (32.A)


Restoration, the inspiring newspaper of Madonna House, has printed a remarkable letter in its November issue. It's written by a dying priest to his physician. Let me share some of it with you...

"Dear Doctor,

The other day, one of the staff related to me the conversation she had with you. She said that you expressed a concern that I do not seem to really appreciate the seriousness of my condition.

Because of my admiration for you, and because it makes a difference to me what you perceive, I would like to share with you a little of my philosophy of life. This philosophy has guided me through much of my 73 years of living.

It would require a book for me to fully describe this 73-year journey, but let if suffice to say that I have experienced, like everyone, alternate moments of discovery, of confusion, of misguided anger, of under­standing, of joy, of love, of frustration, and of hope.

Having experienced the succession of and repetition of all these emotions, I have arrived at a lesson that can be succinctly stated: “I am not afraid to die.”

The unawareness by others that I live by this philosophy, often causes them to misinterpret my reactions to life as nonchalance or denial.

It is not a surprise to me that you could interpret my actions in this way. I can imagine that when you have to give a diagnosis of an illness as potentially fatal or terminal, such news must often be received with great sorrow, disappointment, and fear.

I have not adopted my lack of fear of dying in defiance of life, nor have I arrived at it from a stance of defeatism or pessimism. Rather, I have come to understand in my “Walk” that this life is not all there is to Life.

Moreover, it is a truism that we all have to “walk the talk.”

When we Catholics celebrate the Mass on Sunday, we recite the Profession of Faith. To me, the closing line in this Creed is most pertinent in our journey through this life, for it says: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

We humans are quick to hurl the epithet of “hypocrite” at one another, especially toward the ordained clergy who are often accused of not “walking the talk.”

However, I have always maintained to my congregation that I consider it to be a supreme hypoc­risy to boldly proclaim this line in the Creed and then proceed to live as though I am frightened as hell of death."


I'm perhaps still a bit too young and a bit too healthy to know whether I could sign my name to that letter. But I hope so. It may not be hypocrisy to live in fear of death but it certainly isn't what Jesus wants for his disciples.

And even if I'm not sure whether I fear my death or not, it's not the only death we fear. 

St. Paul makes this clear in the second reading today. He is writing more about grief for others than fear for ourselves. He tells us how the Christian should confront the death of loved ones. He doesn't want us to be "uninformed" about those who have died--he wants to us, like the dying priest, to understand what our faith teaches about God's promises of eternal life.

And because we are informed, because we believe, we are not to "grieve as others do who have no hope."

Notice Paul doesn't say "don't grieve." There are some religious groups that say that, denying the legitimate place of sorrow. He is speaking of how Christians grieve--looking "forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come."

Long before I thought of my own death, I feared the loss of my mother and father. So this is something I can talk about without hypocrisy.

Despite my worries about the inevitable death of my parents,  St. Paul's words did sink into my heart : "since we believe that Jesus died and again" we believe that "through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died."

When my mother and father reached the end of their lives, I really was comforted by the faith we will profess together a few minutes from now. And those experiences have strengthened the virtue of hope in me.

So when death comes closer, I expect I could write a letter at least close to what Father Sam Craig sent to his doctor. And in the meantime, I hope that you and I will encourage one another, as St. Paul tells us, with the promise that we will be with the Lord forever, together with all those who have died.

May they rest in peace--and may we live in hope.

+++

Although you can read the whole letter using the link to Restoration at the top, here is the inspiring conclusion that I did not quote in the homily:

"None of us can be certain of how others will eulogize or memorialize us once we have crossed over the “bar.” But I will be satisfied if I have left just one person with this agenda for life:

  • Live with conviction: for the person who does not stand for something will fall for anything.

  • Learn with an insatiable appetite, for he who thinks he has nothing else to learn is among the living dead.

  •  Love with all the passion you can muster, for it was this for which we were all sent."


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Countless Saints Befriending Us in Countless Ways (All Saints)

 




I think we have the most attractive parish bulletin in the Archdiocese and beyond. Which is why I wish more of you would click when it arrives in your inbox!

Anyway, the bulletin for today’s feast of All Saints is particularly beautiful. It features a panorama of eleven saints and blesseds from the second century to the twenty-first.

I showed the image to someone at the office and asked who the young man at the far right was. She hesitated for a moment and said, “your nephew?”

My nephews are fine young men, but I don’t know that any of them have yet acquired a reputation for sanctity—besides, in words from one of the Monty Python movies, “they’re not dead yet.”

Still, today reminds us that we’re all called to be saints, and that there are many saints in heaven “that we don’t know about! These saints are the countless good Christians who lived throughout the centuries, who are present to God and to us in the Church.”

And though we may not know the names of this great crowd of saints, we know what they’re doing because today’s first reading tells us. It’s from the Book of Revelation, a book full of the Apostle John’s visions of heaven.

St. John sees a numberless multitude of saints, standing before the throne of God, wearing white robes and singing a hymn of praise and adoration: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’"

An elder tells John and us who they are. These are the men and women “who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

In a wonderful reflection on today’s liturgy, Abbot Jeremy Driscoll of Mount Angel Abbey reminds us that “This pattern repeats itself in every generation of Christians.”


And this means something very important to each of us:  in these difficult times, he says “it’s our turn now… to survive our ‘great ordeal’ with the help of our friends, the saints.”

Speaking mainly to his fellow Americans, the abbot is obviously thinking of both the trial of the pandemic and the social unrest in his country.

But there are other ordeals that Christians face, or will face in the future.

Is there any doubt that the humble sacristan at the cathedral in Nice is now among those “before the throne and before the Lamb robed in white,” with two faithful Catholic women standing beside him?

We need to draw inspiration too from the holiness of the saints we have known. I have conducted the funeral Masses of parishioners who surely now stand around God’s throne, having made their baptismal robes white in the life-giving blood of the Lamb which they received at this altar beside me.

The example of the holy people we have known is a big part of today’s feast, but it’s only part of the story. The rest of the story is the help they offer us through their prayers.

The preface for today’s Mass puts it in a nutshell: through these “exalted members of the Church” God gives us, “in our frailty, both strength and good example.”

This is what Abbot Jeremy means when he says we can “survive our ‘great ordeal’ with the help of our friends, the saints.”

This is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews means when he writes “since we are surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely” and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (12:1)

Any sports fan knows the home team advantage that comes from the sound of the loyal crowd cheering the team on. We lose part of our own spiritual advantage if we don’t realize that the heavenly crowd is cheering for us, interceding for us on this glorious feast day.

And so I’d like to close as Abbot Jeremy did, and express the same hope: “I pray that you will have joy in this feast and that you will feel the power and strength of our own destiny – to join the multitude in heaven, where we will praise God forever.”

The Saints above, L-R: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Felicity, Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Charles Lwanga, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Gemma Galgani, St. John Berchmans, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Josephine Bakhita, Bl. Carlo Acutis

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Solid Foundations for Moral Choices (30.A)

 


Two priests, the pastor and the assistant pastor, stood holding signs at a sharp curve on a busy road. The pastor’s sign said, “The end is near!”  while the assistant pastor’s warned, “Turn around before it’s too late!”

A jerk in a sports car passed by and yelled “Idiots” before raising one finger in what we can’t call a sign of peace and stomping on the gas. Moments later the priests heard the sound of screeching tires, followed by a big splash.

One priest turned to the other and said, “Maybe we should change our signs to ‘Bridge Out’.”

Let’s face it, there a lot of folks who don’t like the Church telling them what direction to take.

But there’s no room for this in our Catholic tradition. Faith—what we believe—and morality—how we act—can’t be separated.

We see this throughout the Bible, but never more clearly than in the teaching of Jesus. The Church has listened to that teaching for two thousand years, developing it and applying it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So how do we get to know that teaching? Well, almost anything we study begins with fundamentals before we get specific. In the first year of medicine, future doctors don’t learn surgery but fundamentals. Before that, most students studied science as undergraduates to obtain the necessary knowledge of chemistry, biology and so on.

The same is true of the moral life. To understand and apply all the moral teachings of the Catholic Church—teachings that cover everything from the environment to human sexuality to business practices—you need to start with the fundamentals.

And today, the Lord gives us the two most important of them. He tells us that love of God comes before all else. And that close behind it comes love of neighbour.

Every other teaching of Christ and his Church rests on these foundations. Nothing that is opposed to love of God, nothing that fails to love our brothers and sisters, will ever be right for a Christian.

Yet it won’t always feel right, especially if we haven’t learned the basics of Christian moral theology. Sometimes we will feel that love of God conflicts with love of others.

But that can’t be true, since God does not contradict himself, and two rules cannot contradict themselves and both be true.

Just as mutually exclusive is the idea that what God wants of us and what our neighbour needs from us are opposed to each other.

If your son or daughter asks you for money so he or she can live with a girlfriend or boyfriend, it may feel more loving to reach for your chequebook as you sigh “oh, you young people.”

Speaking the truth will likely be a lot less pleasant. But speaking the truth in love, as St. Paul calls us to do in his Letter to the Ephesians, is what disciples who love God and want to love others must do.

Both the first commandment, the law of love, and the second, to love our neighbour as ourself, may require taking the harder moral road—because the neighbour, in this case the young adult child, needs the truth and deserves the truth. A shortcut from the moral road does not lead to the path of life.

Traditional Catholic moral theology has taken a beating since the 1960s, right alongside many other things on which society used to agree. Amid such confusion, it can be hard to sort right from wrong.

And yet these two great commandments provide infallible guidance—if you take them together. Loving God is the clearly the first and most important commandment, but it can’t be separated from loving others, and vice-versa.

In his first letter, St. John tells us all we need to know about how these two commandments are linked. He writes: “we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

It’s easy to miss that point about obedience if we confuse love—whether for God or others—with feelings. St. John repeats himself in the very next verse “the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.”

Loving the Lord with all our hearts and minds means doing what he asks. And loving others as ourselves means wanting them to love God as we do—which means helping them to obey his commandments.

We can certainly do things our way instead. But if we ignore God’s direction signs, we may very well end up… in the ditch.

A final thought before I close: When Jesus tells us to love one another, we tend to think about serving others, helping the poor, and so on. Yet we also love others by praying for them.

 ***

In the next two weeks we’ll be focusing on loving God and others through prayer. November is the month of prayer for the Holy Souls; what is more loving than to pray that the faithful departed, especially our friends and family, receive the fulness of life in the Lord?

The best way to do this is by coming to Mass on All Soul’s Day, Monday November 2, if you are able.  There will be one Mass at 7, but we will add another if it fills. You must register online or by phone.

And there’s another way to pray—we’re offering an online book of remembrance. You can add the names of loved ones and so the whole community will remember those inscribed in the book at every Mass during November.

Catholics, of course, have a long tradition of praying for the dead. But we can and should pray also for the living. The parish is launching a prayer ministry in the coming weeks that will help you to receive prayers for your intentions or for you personally.

You’ll be able to make your confidential prayer requests online, and if you wish we will connect you to members of the parish prayer ministry who will pray with you by ZOOM or over the phone. A dedicated member of the prayer team is available to pray with and for the dying, even at their bedside when it’s possible.

We’ll be telling you more about this by Flocknote and in the bulletin, so please stand by.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Render Unto God... (29.A)

 


I used to enjoy preparing my homilies. Since the pandemic, not so much.

For one thing, I find it hard to preach to a small congregation spread out in the church. And preaching to a larger congregation over the internet is a bit nerve-wracking.

But writing this week’s homily was almost fun. The three readings were like a puzzle I had to figure out.

I was stumped by the connection between the first reading and the Gospel, which is usually fairly obvious. But after I went through the readings a third time, I think I solved the puzzle.

The three readings speak to three very different groups of people.

The first reading addresses good people who aren’t religious. The second reading speaks to good people who are religious. And the Gospel is talking to, not to be unkind, bad people who are religious.

But all three have something to say to each of us.

We’ll start with the first reading. The prophet Isaiah is speaking on behalf of God directly to Cyrus the Great, who ruled much of the world about five hundred years before the birth of Christ.

The Jewish nation did not like foreigners and especially not foreign leaders, but Cyrus was a huge exception.

This wise ruler was a real hero to the Chosen People. He was the one who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem after their long exile in Babylon and who ordered the rebuilding of the Temple. He returned the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the First Temple. He even made a big contribution toward the construction costs.

This much was simply history. The huge point that the prophet makes is this: God can accomplish his will through a pagan. The Lord calls Cyrus and even anoints him. The king does not know the true God but the true God knows him and works through him.

What does this say to us? At least three things: first, you do not have to be religious to do good, even great good. Second, we can see God at work in many ways through non-believers. And third, Christians can and sometimes must work with good people who don’t share our beliefs.

Then we look at the second reading. It’s directed to good people who do good. Nothing dramatic here, but St. Paul does say something very important: the good works of good people are something we should be grateful for. These labours of love prove that the Gospel he preached to the Thessalonians has taken hold. And he thanks God for that.

We should do the same in our parish. Works of faith, hope and charity are constantly happening here. The men’s hostel ministry dropped off donations of food and clothing this week, while the St. Vincent de Paul Society has been busy as ever, despite the pandemic.

This month our parish conference cooked lunch three times at The Door is Open drop-in center on the downtown east side, and sponsors haircuts at the Men’s Hostel twice a month.

Those are certainly what St. Paul calls labours of love. But the parish community is no less generous with what he calls works of faith, with dedicated volunteers taking part in Alpha and Faith Studies aimed at sharing the Gospel with others.

The generous work of our parish catechists has barely begun this year, but already we saw the fruit of that ministry yesterday when two older children who were prepared for the sacraments by a dedicated volunteer over the summer were confirmed by Father Jeff.

Members of our prison ministry continue to plan diligently for their outreach within the severe limits they face in these difficult times, coming up with new and creative ideas to make life better for those they serve.

I could go on, but it’s enough that I borrow St. Paul’s words: I “always give thanks to God for all of you” and mention you in my prayers, “constantly remembering before our God and Father your works of faith” and love.

And I hope every parishioner joins me in that grateful prayer.  Good people do a lot of good.

Now let’s turn to Gospel. I didn’t mean to be mean to the Pharisees when I called them bad people; not all of them were.  But the tag team Jesus is talking with—Pharisees and Herodians, a group known to oppose Jesus and to support Herod in all his corruption, were sure not good.

They’re bad people pretending to be good people, out to trap Jesus in a thoroughly hypocritical way.

Obviously, they fail. But what can learn from this?

For one thing, as Jesus says in another passage in Matthew’s Gospel, his followers need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We saw something of this during the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the devout Catholic nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nothing in our faith and nothing in the example Jesus gives us requires us to confront our opponents head on where a legitimate alternative exists. St. Thomas More also used his intellect to answer the charges against him, although with less success than Judge Barrett.

We can and should ask the Holy Spirit to help us when people try to trap us in arguments against our faith. Jesus told his disciples not to worry when hauled before the authorities: “the Holy Spirit,” he said, “will teach you at that very hour what to say.” (Lk 12:12)

But we know that God helps those who help themselves. We should understand what Jesus said along with these words from the First Letter of Peter: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Pt 15-16)

There are two things we can do to prepare ourselves when attacks come; happily, they’re pretty much the same things we need to do to witness to those who are happy to hear us.

First, of course, we should pray routinely for spiritual wisdom and the courage to share it gently and well. This is part of missionary discipleship.

Second, we should learn the good arguments that support our beliefs.  “The Church says…” won’t convince people who are out to trap us. The study of this even has a name: it’s called apologetics. There’s nothing apologetic about apologetics—the plural word means the branch of theology devoted to defending the faith using reasoned argument.

The bulletin this week has details about a free online conference this coming weekend hosted by well-known Catholic speaker Matt Fradd, who visited our parish some years back. He will be joined by other gifted apologists including Dr. Peter Kreeft and Stephanie Gray Connors from Vancouver.

It would be wonderful if some of our parishioners could make the time to prepare themselves to follow the example Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel.

Finally, the Gospel takes us back to the first reading and King Cyrus. He seems to have been a good man; no one suggests Herod was a good man. But sometimes we need to work with what we’ve got in order to accomplish God’s plan.

As society becomes less and less Christian, we will have to think more and more about what Jesus says about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

We must always put God in first place, realizing that no amount of good ever justifies a morally bad action. That’s the rock on which every disciple must stand.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Thanksgiving for the Lord's Feast (28.A)

 

Unless there was a homesick Canadian working in the Vatican liturgy office, it’s just a coincidence that the Scripture readings today seem perfect for our Thanksgiving weekend.

Or at least almost perfect.

The first reading describes a wonderful meal. The psalm includes a well-set table. And St. Paul writes about being happy with what we have. But the Gospel parable seems to go off-message: even the most unwelcome guests for Thanksgiving dinner aren’t nearly as bad as those outrageous people the King invites to the wedding banquet.

However, if we look at the readings together, a common theme emerges. Each of us has been invited to the Lord’s feast, a banquet that will satisfy our every need.

If that’s not something to be thankful for, what is?

The readings point us toward the heavenly banquet. Our first reading from Isaiah says that this wedding feast takes place where death is destroyed, and tears wiped away. Isaiah’s words echo in the Book of Revelation, where we read “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” and “Death will be no more.”

And we’ve all heard the angel’s words in the Book of Revelation “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.”

The last thing we want is to ignore that invitation. We want to pay close attention to the warning we’re given in the Gospel parable today.  Why did the first set of wedding guests behave so badly? I can only think of two reasons. Either they are totally ungrateful for the royal invitation or they think the messengers aren’t serious—notice that some of them “made light” of the invitation.  Maybe they thought that these low-level servants were making it up

 So how do we respond? It’s simple: with gratitude and faith. These are the modest cost of admission to the feast God has prepared for us.

But are we to focus our gratitude only on the life to come? Must we wait for heaven to sit down at the Lord’s table? Surely not—because Paul says that God will satisfy our every need, not just in the future but now.

The King’s invitation to his wedding banquet is issued now, and the RSVP must also be now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us plainly: the Eucharist is “already the foretaste of the kingdom to come.” (CCC 2837) However much these readings point to heaven, they also point to this altar.

On the Last Day, God will swallow up death forever. But at every Eucharist death and the fear of death is already being destroyed; our tears of sorrow and shame are gently dried, and we received the gift of hope and healing that each of us needs.

Our call to “every parishioner,every Sunday” isn’t just a way of keeping our parish community together at this time of trouble. It’s the Lord’s invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb of God, for which he has provided his own Body and Blood.

And if every parishioner responds with faith and thanksgiving, this ‘wedding hall’ will soon be filled with guests.