Monday, November 27, 2017

Christ the King: Our Parish Feast Day

The parish welcomed joyfully Fr. Juan Lucca, who had spent a summer with us as a seminarian, to offer Mass here for the first time, and to be the guest preacher on our annual feast day. 

Dear Msgr Smith and Fr. Giovanni, and dear parishioners of Christ the Redeemer,

It is a joy for me to celebrate with you your parish feast day! It’s a wonderful occasion on which to remember all the good work this parish has done over the past year and all your generosity to the poor.

And as you come to the end of the liturgical year it is also a good opportunity to remember and give thanks to God for all the good work you were able to do for the poor as a parish community. I am a living testament that when I was a seminarian here, this community did indeed feed the hungry! Myself! Except for the time Msgr. pretty much banned me from his fridge because I ate something I wasn’t supposed to…  Fr. Giovanni, if this ever happens to you, remind our dear Msgr. of today’s Gospel… “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”

Today we mark the last Sunday of the liturgical year by celebrating Jesus Christ as universal King. As you can remember all the gospels as of late have been parables about the end of times, how we need to be ready with our oil, how we need to invest our talents for when he comes, and today we hear Jesus’ last discourse in his public ministry, “the final judgment”, where he will sit and separate the sheep from the goats, those who have followed him and those who have stubbornly rejected his call to love.

Many people no longer believe in hell… and what is more distressing, many no longer believe in heaven. But Jesus Christ has made it very clear to us, especially these last few Sundays, that heaven and hell are true realities and that we are currently picking a side by the way we live out our life. In the last three Gospels, it hasn’t been murder, or stealing or some outrageous crime that has stopped people from entering the kingdom… it has been sins of omission, a lack of preparation and a failing to live out the Christian calling. In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes our love for the poor a condition for entering the kingdom of heaven.

The second Vatican council says that all of us here have the same two calls, the universal call to holiness, and the universal call to evangelization. In other words, we all have the calling to (1) reach heaven and (2) to lead others into heaven. It is not an option, it’s a commanding call. These two calls originate from our two greatest commandments, to love God, to live holy lives, and to love neighbour, to bring them the message of good news. Jesus really does make 'love of neighbour' a necessary component for love of God. God commands us to live lives of fraternal love now so that we may be able to lead lives of divine love for all eternity.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta based her ministry on this Gospel. She called it the five-finger gospel… You. Did. It. To. Me.

The other day at the cathedral a drunk man had pretty much stripped himself of his clothes because they were all wet and he was trying to dry them on the radiators… I got a call that there was this man stripping in the church so I ran over and immediately lost my patience with him… I told him... this is a church! Have you no shame? and I hurried him to the back rather brusquely and told him to leave…

Well, that evening was the first time I did Lectio Divina for this Sunday’s Gospel and it got me thinking… Jesus equates the love we show to the least of our brethren to the love we show him. When I say mass, I am most attentive that not even one particle falls to the ground. I protect the host so that nothing happens, so that I can give God, present in the sacred species, the utmost reverence I can give. When I prepare the chalice I do likewise and cover it, and dress it and make it beautiful, to give him glory…
And it dawned on me, Jesus wants me to treat the poor at the cathedral like the sacred vessels of the altar, they are people who hold in themselves (just like the chalice and the paten) the very person of Jesus Christ.

We have an invitation from Jesus who is the universal king to rediscover his presence in the darkest corners of our humanity. In fact, he tells us that there is where he will be and that we will be judged by how much love we show him in these poor and broken vessels of his, which he calls “the least of mine”. It's not only the homeless and the penniless that Jesus is speaking about… Mother Teresa put it very well… she said, “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody... I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”. And in another place, she says, “Never worry about numbers, help one person at a time and start with the person nearest you”.

Whom has Jesus placed in our lives now? Whom has he bonded us to in love? Through whom does Jesus demand love in our lives?

As we approach this Eucharist, as we see the chalice and the paten, let us ask our Lord to give us the patience and the ability to see all of our brothers and sisters as holy, as worthy of our love and devotion, vessels of God’s love poured out for us, to treat them with reverence and respect, knowing that Jesus Christ is present within them, waiting to be loved, waiting to catch our gaze.

Just as faith is the only thing that allows us to see that the bread becomes the body of Jesus and that the wine becomes his blood, so let us now ask, as we prepare these gifts, for the faith to see the divine and universal king, living and abiding in the broken hearts of the people God has placed in our lives, so that we may lead them closer to heaven by the concrete love which we show them.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Humility the Antidote to Hypocrisy (31.A)

My great-aunt Dorothy lived to be almost a hundred years old by guiding her life according to a mysterious source of wisdom known as "they."

For instance, "they" say that eggs are bad for you.  And so, at 95, Aunt Dorothy decided to stop eating eggs.

Not that "they" is always right.  "They say coffee keeps you awake," she told me once, "but it's not true.  I never drink coffee yet I often have trouble sleeping."

Every once in a while "they" is completely off the wall, but there's no convincing Dorothy.  And of course it's pretty hard to refute an anonymous authority.

You and I might be too sophisticated to put much stock in what "they" say, but I'll bet almost every one of us likes to think about what "they" do.

Take today’s readings.  About whom are the first reading and gospel speaking?  Why "them" of course.  It's clear: the first reading is about Jewish priests, and the Gospel's about scribes and Pharisees.

Whew, that was close.  I'm not Jewish, or a scribe, or a pharisee.

But... oops.... I am a priest.  Maybe this passage is about priests, about religious leaders.  Not about them, but about me.  Perhaps I should preach about the faithlessness of the clergy, about hypocrisy and ambition in our ranks.

But there's two problems with that.  The first, of course, is that the betrayal of trust by a small number of priests and religious is something we've been dealing with for years, something that doesn't really need yet another analysis, however tragic and important that issue is.

But the second problem is that, for everyone except me and Father Giovanni, a homily about priests would be about "them."  They do this.  They don't do that.  If these texts are mainly to correct and instruct priests, they should be read on retreat, or in the breviary, or the clergy newsletter.

What's really important, in my view, is that each of us hear the Word as it applies to us, not to "them," not to others.

And these readings do apply to us: in a special way to us priests, certainly, but fundamentally to every baptized soul.   Because in baptism we are all called to a share in Christ's priesthood, just as by original sin we all have a share in whatever is was that made it easier for the scribes and Pharisees to preach faith than to practise it.

Today's liturgy puts before us those two scary H-words: humility and hypocrisy.  It challenges us to take a long and a hard look at ourselves.  Are we walking the talk?  Is our religious faith getting translated into daily life?

Today's scriptures offer caricatures of hypocrisy.  Priests who are so corrupt that they cause spiritual harm to their people.  Religious leaders who glory in social prestige and strut with self-importance.  Those things are easy to spot.  But what about the subtle, more pernicious, more soul-destroying kind of hypocrisy?  That's where we need to worry.

Some years ago, a newly-appointed member of the US cabinet urged the American people to "watch what we do and not what we say."  Unfortunately for him, the American people took him at his word and he went to jail.

But the credibility gap--the gap between our words and our deeds--is not just a danger for clergy or politicians.  I once knew a woman who attended Mass faithfully, donated regularly to the Church, and who ignored entirely the emotional and practical needs of an elderly relative living eight blocks away.  Is this not more dangerous than a fondness for titles or the seats of honour at a banquet?

Every once in a while we diagnose hypocrisy in a flash.  Like a bolt out of the blue I realize "my golly, I've got to do something about those long tassels on my phylacteries."  Much more often, we diagnose hypocrisy by self-examination, by reflection, by honest and prayerful thought.  We need to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit without having our defences in place.

But the diagnosis isn't the cure.  The antidote to hypocrisy is humility.  That's why today's psalm is crucial to God's message to us this Sunday.  It's about humility, the virtue that authenticates and orders all others.

You might call humility the DOS or the Windows--the operating system--of the spiritual life.  You can be filled with faith, hope or love and yet live in spiritual chaos if you take pride in these accomplishments.

I read once of an English archbishop sitting next to a nobleman at dinner who remarked “Your Grace, that chaplain of yours is a very extraordinary man."

The archbishop agreed, adding "Had he but the gift of humility, he would be the most extraordinary man in Europe."

We are all called to humility, not only because it is essential to authentic spirituality, but mostly because it is essential to the imitation of Christ—Christ, who did not cling to his equality with God but took the form of a slave, as St. Paul wrote.  And in the Gospel Jesus tells us directly: learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

Today's psalm is the prayer of a humble person.  But if we make it our own, if we pray these words with expectation, we will eventually make the psalmist's words our own.