RSS Feed

Tag Archives: religion

Homily: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) [A]

O Lord God omnipotent, I beseech Thee by the Precious Blood which Thy divine Son Jesus shed in His cruel scourging, deliver the souls in purgatory, and among them all, especially that soul which is nearest to its entrance into Thy glory, that it may soon begin to praise and bless Thee for ever. Amen.
The Raccolta

The readings for the commemoration of all the faithful departed (All Souls) cycle A can be found here.

The Gospel reading for all souls day is a short snippet of a larger homily presented by John’s Jesus. I will setup the scene so that we can understand the context of the homily.

Jesus has just fed 5000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish and made an escape into the hills to avoid further demands of the people. During the night Jesus’ disciples sailed for Capernaum across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus met them in the middle of the sea walking across the water. The people caught up with Jesus the next day in Capernaum and pressed Him for answers regarding; “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus told the people to believe in Him.

This is the basic setup for the Gospel reading. Scripture scholars will tell you that John’s Jesus then delivers a homily where He discusses Exodus 16:15 and Isaiah 54:13 to update those OT verses for the Christian community. The people’s response to Jesus’ words reflect the conflict John’s community was facing as the Christians were being ejected from the synagogues. The people tell Jesus that their ancestors ate manna in the desert and they wanted to know what sign He could perform so that they might believe in Him. This was clearly one of the arguments leveled against the early Christian community from those who were afraid to give up their old faith.

The Jewish leaders of the synagogue were rejecting and Johannine community and kicking them out. In response, Jesus explained to those in attendance in Capernaum that unlike Moses who prayed, and God sent manna from heaven, that Jesus himself was manna from heaven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus does not reject anybody.

You are accepted by Jesus. The Gospel is a snippet and the homily is simple; God loves you and accepts you as you are.

God bless,

Advertisements

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

If only those who demand the Big Ten be posted in every public place in America to return us to moral values would settle instead for the commandments Jesus chose.
Val Webb (Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine) p. 116

The readings for the thirtieth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

Before we get too far into the homily we need to talk about the Shema. Rabbi Shraga Simmons tells us that the “Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught to say. It is the last words a Jew says prior to death.”

The Shema is important to our Sunday Gospel because when Jesus was asked to say the greatest commandment He turned to one of the best known and important phrases in Judaism.

and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6: 5

This response would clearly have been expected, by the Lawyer who asked the question. On this point both Jesus and the Jewish leaders would have agreed.

The scripture scholar will tell you that in the Deuteronomy verse the heart is properly interpreted to mean desires. The soul is properly interpreted to mean life. Might is properly interpreted as wealth. Therefore, both Judaism and Christianity are asked to love God with all of our desires, our very life, and our wealth.

In Matthew’s retelling of the Deuteronomy verse, “might” turned to “mind”, which is thought to be another way to say heart or intellect. Regardless what the individual words mean, together they define a great love for God.

This love for God is not simply something you hold in your heart, but one you act out in your daily living. Love is not only something you feel, but primarily something you do. That is to be our understanding from the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus then turns to a Jewish law that the leaders would not have expected.

The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19: 34

This verse from Leviticus was considered a minor law in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, but great in the eyes of Jesus.

Scripture scholars will tell you that Judaism taught, and still teaches, that the world hangs on the Torah (lifelong Jewish education), avodah (Temple worship), and gemilut chasadim (the pursuit of justice, peace, and deeds of loving-kindness). Matthew’s Jesus put the acts of love front and center by hanging all the laws and prophets on love of God and neighbor. This new understanding was a clear departure from the traditional teachings of Judaism.

Some believe that Matthew creates a new morality by stating all laws are subject to these greatest commandments. As Christians, all our laws and doctrines are to be subject to these great commandments.

Another way to state this is to say that upon these two commandments hangs all Catholic law and doctrine. That is our Christian morality. The great commandments should be our litmus test for all Catholic teaching.

This is a hard teaching and one we struggle with daily. When you think about loving somebody as you love yourself it becomes clear that it is not easy to do.

In our life we rank others, because it is human nature to develop some divisions with which to assess others. We have words in our human language such as first world, third world, first class citizen, second class citizen, etc. We say to ourselves; how else would we be able to describe how we fit into the world if not with these words?

We rank people instantaneously, without even knowing it. Think about the strangers we meet every day. Within seconds we have assessed another person by the way they dress, their age, and their gender. Without even realizing it we have ranked others on a scale that we have developed.

Theoretically, the humble person would rank all others higher than themselves. This is not our human nature. Some people we will rank higher and others lower. This happens so quickly that we have to step outside ourselves to even see that we are doing this. Luckily for us, loving our neighbor as ourselves is a deed not a thought. We can take time to correct our thoughts so that they do not inform our deeds.

This is our challenge as Christians. We must become aware of those people in our life who we consider to be lower on our scale, or to borrow from our human language, second class citizens.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to practice our Christian morality, which is to love God and our neighbor. Good practice makes perfect, is an idiom I am fond of using.

Think about that coach you had, with the windbreaker and the whistle, yelling at you to do it again. There is a phrase that runs through my mind; we are going to do this until we get it right.

You may not have had the experience of that coach in your life, but allow the Holy Spirit to be your conscience in matters of love of God and neighbor. If you see that your deeds are creating second class citizens in the world it is time to practice the greatest commandments.

It is time, this Sunday, to examine our attitude toward others. Do our deeds demonstrate that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

We don’t consider ourselves to be second class citizens, and we shouldn’t treat others that way. This is a hard teaching but it is vital for our salvation.

God bless,

Homily: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Jesus asks questions, good questions, unnerving questions, re-aligning questions, transforming questions… Maybe this is why we have paid so little attention to Jesus questions and emphasized instead his seeming answers… Easy answers instead of hard questions allow us to try to change others instead of allowing God to change us.
Fr. Richard Rohr

The readings for the twenty-ninth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

There will be many sermons on the Gospel reading that will echo the words of Ben Franklin when he said “a place for everything, everything in its place.” You will hear how those tricky Jewish leaders put Jesus on the spot and He provided the precise answer that tied the whole matter up with a perfect bow avoiding the pitfalls from all parties. You will hear that this should be our model for balancing our civic duties and the duties of our faith.

This is a logical conclusion if we are looking for answers. Instead of answers we should be looking for questions. If we look hard at the spoken questions of Jesus we might be able to recognize unspoken questions that will transform our lives.

The spoken question of Jesus in the Gospel asks us, whose image does the coin bear? Richard E. Spalding poses the question yet unspoken: “What is it that bears God’s image?”

In the book of Genesis we read “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

This leads us to the question; if we are to give the coins to Caesar to make him happy what are we to give to make God happy? This is the transforming question that we must ask.

In just 19 verses from this Gospel reading, Matthew gives us a clue.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22: 36-40

This is to be our understanding of what makes God happy. We are asked to even give Caesar to God.

Jurgen Moltmann explains that “Jesus said, God is like the sun rising on the evil and the good, or like the rain pouring down upon the just and the unjust… The new orientation is that we do not live only in two divided and hostile worlds. We actually live on this one earth. We breathe the same air, the same sun is rising on all life. Let us become children of this one earth and overcome our divided, hostile worlds.”

Jesus’ message is not meant to divide our allegiances between the sacred and the secular. Both are sacred to God, because we are precious in God’s sight. Only humans and the human language put that division in place. We are asked to recognize and overcome this divided world. It was the hypocritical Jewish leaders, Herodians and Pharisees, who were trying to cause trouble by dividing the world this way.

The hardest thing is to live in this world as human beings, not to retreat into some other area. But really make your understanding of what it means to be human your theology as well. Some people think when you start talking that we have to get rid of the sacred and the secular that you want to get rid of the sacred. It’s not that. It’s to get rid of this division, so that what is sacred, or what is holy, or whatever your words, or we struggle with words, or whatever that is, it’s part of you as a human being. It’s not part of something that is beyond ourselves. It is more of an understanding of what it is to be human, and part of that is what we have previously labeled as sacred or spiritual. That’s all part of who we are.
Dr. Val Webb

We have all heard of the term faithful. The faithful are people who show true and constant loyalty. We have all heard the term fearful. The fearful are people inclined to feel anxiety and capable of causing fear. Both are part of the human condition. We can use our faith in God to overcome our fear of the secular.

So much hatred is spoken by people who fear that religion is fading in the face of secularization. The fearful people point at the ever growing secular orientation of our world and the rise of those who claim “none” as their religion. This hatred and fear-mongering will be used in sermons, based on this Gospel, to perpetuate the division between the sacred and secular. Our response must be love, when we are presented with hatred.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Jesus never said it would be easy to follow Him, but if we practice His teachings and trust that our love will transform this world, we can overcome all of our divisions. That is the very definition of faith in God. That is the lesson from this Gospel story.

I pray that we all become children of this one Earth and allow God to guide us in overcoming our divided and hostile worlds.

God bless,

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Gospel living only begins with the invitation. It cannot remain a mere idea; its sine qua non [something indispensable] is a transformed life.
Richard E Spalding (Feasting on the Word: Season After Pentecost 2, Volume 12) p. 168

The readings for the twenty-eighth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25: 6-9

The scripture scholar will tell you that this parable is an allegory. An allegorical title you may be familiar with is Animal Farm, by George Orwell. In Animal Farm, written in 1945, the story depicts events in history that lead up to the 1917 revolution in Russia right through to WWII.

The characters and places in the Orwell work represent actual figures in history and the same is true for our Gospel this Sunday.

The setting of the wedding feast represents the kingdom of heaven. The wedding feast is for the son of the king, and the son represents Jesus. The servants sent out to gather the wedding guests represent the Prophets who came to the Jewish people. The wedding guests who chose not to attend the feast represent the Jewish leaders who persecute Jesus. The guests that filled the hall represent the outcasts and those whose professions were despised by Jewish society, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. The wedding garment represents repentance and conversion.

The central point of this parable revolves around the invitation. We must keep in mind that an invitation is a free act of kindness, and here, there is no obligation to invite people to the feast.

In many sermons there is a tendency to identify us Christians as the guests who filled the hall, while all those peoples who do not believe in Jesus do not receive an invitation.

It seems like comforting words for those Christians who are concerned about their salvation, but in reality we are the wedding guest who arrives without the wedding garment.

Matthew’s Jesus reminds us that the while the kingdom of heaven is filled with saints and sinners we are all called to convert from our selfish ways and repent. We must not be complacent in our faith lives as our salvation rests in our remaining converted to the teachings of Jesus and our good deeds.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3: 12-13

I live, work and pray in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and recently I was reading an article published through one of the Archdiocese social media outlets about etiquette during Mass. The article outlined items such as fasting for an hour and arriving early to recollect and prepare before Mass. I thought to myself that if I arrived an hour early I could kill two birds with one stone. Okay, I indulged in a little humor there, and as my daughter is want to say; very little humor.

As with all social media, readers are allowed to comment on the article. I read the comments to get a feel for what other folks think about the topic. I am rarely in a position to discuss these topics with others, and I can suffer from insular thinking by surrounding myself with only like minded people. It is good to expose yourself to people who have opposing positions, even if it tends to raise your blood pressure.

The reader responses continued to build on the theme of the article and discussion ranged from removing your lipstick before Communion to holding hands during the Our Father, to how to hold your hands in the proper prayerful way.

One comment was simply; remember to enjoy Mass.

In this sea of reader comments this one was the shortest and by far the most inspirational. This person saw through all the futility of those responders who were trying desperately through their selfish faith practices to please God. In one simple positive comment they hit the bullseye. What good are all those rituals if we can’t enjoy our community celebration.

Selfish pride will be our undoing. The Jewish leaders ignored the invitation of Jesus because their salvation was secured through their rituals. These rituals had been handed down from the time of Moses and nothing Jesus could say about loving our neighbor, the poor or disenfranchised could change that. The prevailing attitude was that those less fortunate people deserve what they get.

We can fall into the same trap and ignore Jesus because we have our rituals. If we feel that salvation is secured through our faith rituals, we are in danger of ignoring Jesus’ invitation. If we look upon people with disdain because they only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter, or fail to remove their lipstick before receiving Communion we are in danger of becoming the wedding guest without the proper wedding garment.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we need persistent conversion and repentance. We need to be constantly on guard against our selfish pride. Our salvation is God’s doing, not our own. We cannot manipulate God through our perfect practice of worship rituals any more than those Jewish leaders could.

Our job is to accept the invitation to the wedding feast and put on the wedding garment of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another.

My prayer for you is that you can remember to enjoy the celebration of Mass, proper etiquette aside.

God bless,

Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

And so we are invited on this day to represent God’s stake in our lives and world, invited to be generous with each other as God is with us. We are not the owners, but the tenants.
Rev. Thomas Hall

You can find the readings for the twenty-seventh Sunday in ordinary time cycle A here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that this parable is an allegory. Some allegorical titles you may be familiar with include Animal Farm, by George Orwell, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In Animal Farm, written in 1945, the story depicts events in history that lead up to the 1917 revolution in Russia right through to WWII.

The characters and places in the story represent actual figures in history and the same is true for our Gospel this Sunday.

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Psalm 118: 22-23

Matthew’s parable, written just before 90 CE, depicts events in salvation history. Typical of New Testament scripture the vineyard represented Israel with God as the landowner. The servants sent to meet with the tenants represented the prophets who had come before Jesus. As you might have guessed the Son in the parable represented Jesus.

As the story goes Jesus asked those leaders of Jerusalem when the landowner returns what will be done with those tenants? Death they said. I guess love and forgiveness is out of the question?

The moral for us is simple. We are the tenants. We can try to deny it, but the fact is we have been given the kingdom of heaven on earth to manage. Ask yourself; have we managed it well? Have we been visited by the servants of God and then beat them? How are we to manage the vineyard that God has entrusted to us?

To help get our thoughts flowing on these questions I would like to point out a common prayer that everybody knows where we pray that the kingdom on earth will be just like the kingdom of heaven. Let us begin there.

Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Matt 6: 9-13

This prayer can be simply words, or it can be the mission statement for our stewardship of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

I can hear people saying that we just need bring back the discipline of our faith and the kingdom of heaven on earth can be a reality. Does this sound familiar to you?

They are echoing the words of Pope Pius X when he said our “Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error;”

On October 3, 2014, Pope Francis I delivered a homily where he asked a simple question; “are we open to the gift of God’s salvation, or do we prefer to take refuge in the safety of our man-made rules and regulations?”

He went on to ask; “how do I want to be saved? On my own? Through a spirituality which is good, but fixed and clear so that there are no risks? Or following the footsteps of Jesus who always surprises us, opening doors to that mystery of God’s mercy and pardon?”

The Gospel parable is an allegory of our salvation. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we are the tenants and we decide how do we want to be treated by God for our stewardship of the kingdom? I pray that you are open to the gift of God’s salvation. Forgiveness and mercy should be the fruits that we harvest.

Follow in the footsteps of Jesus. God bless,

Homily: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

What causes us to change our minds? What allows for our hearts to be changed, to be broken open? What blocks us from allowing ourselves to be changed? These questions seem to be at the heart of the matter.
Charlotte Dudley Cleghorn (Feasting on the Word: Season After Pentecost 2, Volume 12) p. 120

The readings for the twenty-sixth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.

Years ago I was teaching a scripture study class for RCIA (Catholic converts) in my parish. I had grown up there and was quite involved in the life of the parish. Those people who were converting to Catholicism did not know me from my days as a young snot nosed kid in that community, and that may have been a good thing.

One RCIA cycle I was approached by a young lady in the program who asked me to be her sponsor, and I accepted. It was a requirement that converts have a sponsor who they can rely on through the conversion process to act as a guide. In the past I had always managed to find someone else in the convert’s life to be their sponsor. After all I did not really know these folks well enough to spend the time needed to be a sponsor. That was my excuse, anyway.

I only agreed to be her sponsor after her parents intervened on her behalf. There was nobody else in her life she could trust with the secret information about her past. She had an abortion and was living with this remorse.

What a leap of faith it was for her to choose me. I am not a priest under a seal of the confessional. I was essentially a stranger who, other than her parents, knew her deepest most troubling shame. I believe that those people who came to John the Baptist must have had to make a similar leap of faith. They needed somebody to help them ritualize their repentance and die to their old self. They turned to John the Baptist.

I was to be her teacher of all things Catholic, but she was to be my teacher of repentance and salvation.

In order to better understand the Gospel reading for this Sunday we need to first read Matthew 21: 23-27. We are in luck because they are the verses that come just before our Gospel reading. The scripture scholar will tell you that the Gospel this Sunday is a midrash, or commentary, of these earlier verses. The best definition of a midrash comes from Rabbi Iscah Waldman when he describes it as “a literature that seeks to ask the questions that lie on the tips of our tongues, and to answer them even before we have posed them.”

As Matthew tells it in 21: 23-27, Jesus was teaching in the Temple courtyards when the Jerusalem leaders came up to Him and demanded to know under whose authority He was teaching. Jesus realized that this was a tricky question with no good answer and agreed to tell them what they wanted to know if they could tell Him the origin of baptisms of John the Baptist. Were they from heaven or a human origin.

It is clear that the Jerusalem leaders knew who John the Baptist was but did not believe in the repentance he preached. They reasoned that there was no good answer to the tricky question posed by Jesus so they claimed not to know the origin. This allowed Jesus to not answer their question of authority.

This brings us to the Gospel for this Sunday with the parable of the two sons. We all have a question on the tip of our tongues but before we can ask Jesus provides the commentary. Everybody agrees that the first son did the will of his father, much like the tax collectors who heard the message of John the Baptist and repented their sins. Everybody also agrees that the second son did not do the will of his father, much like the righteous Jerusalem leaders who heard the message of John the Baptist but did not repent.

John the Baptist, much like the prophet Amos before him, was a voice for justice and salvation. The salvation we are talking about is best described by Marcus Borg as “the transformation from death to life. Moving people from pre-occupation and anxiety to presence and compassion. Salvation is about the individual transforming and also the transformation of the world, transformation from a world justice to a world of justice.” He went on to describe that “justice is about the way the system is put together, justice is about how everyone should have enough of the material basis of life. God’s passion for justice in the bible — everyone have the basic needs of life.”

The world view of those Jerusalem leaders included an understanding of justice very different that John the Baptist. Tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor and lame, ect., received the level of justice that they deserved. In that world view those marginalized people had no real chance at salvation and the leaders of the community felt their salvation to be secured so why would there be a need to repent?

This is what I learned from spending one RCIA cycle with the young lady I sponsored; repentance is sacramental. I am talking about sacramental through which the spirit becomes present to us and lives within the sacrament. I am not talking about the seven sacraments of the Church but rather a deepening of the relationship with God.

This sacramental experience leads to ultimate transformation that is spiritual, compassionate, and to a dying to our old identity and being born to a new identity. The young convert would receive absolution through the sacrament of reconciliation, but the gifts of the spirit that come through repentance are so much more.

Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works.
St. Francis of Assisi (First Rule of the Friars Minor, Regula non bullata, XVII:3)

Before my experience with this young lady I was much more like those Jerusalem leaders who had absolutized God. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus – No Salvation Outside the Church” was something I believed. My sense of salvation was informed by my understanding of justice and what I believed was deserved by others and myself.

I was so sure that I had all the answers but didn’t realize that I was the second son.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to examine your faith and if you cannot see any need for repentance, you might be like the second son in the parable. I am not talking about examining the list of mortal and venial sins offered by Church leaders. That list is no different than the list offered by those Jewish leaders who questioned Jesus’ authority. I am talking about the John the Baptist examination of justice and salvation.

I can tell you that repentant young ladies who have had abortions are going to heaven before us all. In the eyes of God they do not deserve salvation any less than you or me. If you cannot see that this is the justice of God you may be the second son in the parable.

I pray that this parable troubles your soul, and through the intercession of John the Baptist that we can bring justice and salvation to our world through our repentance.

God bless,

Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

When you see yourself as separate, you compare yourself to others, you struggle with the superiority complex, the inferiority complex, the equality complex (I must try to be as good as her). But if you know that you ARE him, You ARE her, and she IS you, there is absolute peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Constant comparison with those who are smarter, more beautiful, or more successful than ourselves also tends to breed envy, frustration, and unhappiness.
Dalai Lama

You can find the readings for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A here.

AAAAHHH!!!… I want to scream every time I hear this parable. It cuts me to the quick, but it is needed now more than ever.

I was relaxing in the aptly named family room where my three daughters were engaged in various stages of homework and I decided to ask them what they thought of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. They are used to me so they humor me. I recited the beats of the parable and said to them; “so what do you think?” They all agreed that the complainer had nothing to grumble about since he was given what he agreed to accept for a day’s work. Clearly they were not getting the point, so I asked it another way.

I said to the oldest; “suppose you and I agreed on a dollar amount for working with me in the yard all day. Suppose the work was taking too long for the two of us so I ask one of your sisters to help us at noon for the same dollar amount you accepted for all day work. Suppose that toward evening we realize that more help is needed and I ask your other sister to help us for the same dollar amount you accepted for all day work. When the day was complete and I paid you for your good work how would you feel?”

What do you think she said? Based on her earlier comment one would think that there was nothing to grumble about, but she was honest and said she would feel cheated. One of her sisters immediately chimed in with a rousing cheer of; “I would feel great because I was paid the same for less work.” Siblings are so supportive. I am going to miss them when they move out of the house.

My daughters finally understood the parable. When I asked my oldest if she was envious of my generosity toward her sisters in our story, she was honest again and said yes. If we all could be this honest about the envy we feel at the generosity of God we might have a fighting chance at heaven on earth.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I can look deep into any person’s eyes and say with absolute conviction, “I could have been you.” The best construction I can put on this conviction is that the lives we have been given come with an intrinsic responsibility, which I understand to be: We are to care for each other and lovingly share our stories with each other. Thus a prejudice of any kind is an absurdity.
Bill Wenzel

The scripture scholar will tell you that to fully grasp the Gospel message for the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16) we must first read the parable of the rich young man (Matt 19:16-30). Conveniently for us the story of the rich young man comes just before the laborers in the vineyard so there is not much difficulty in finding it.

When the rich young man walks away sad the disciples are left wondering who can be saved, if not the rich young man? Jesus then explains that (Matt 19:30) “many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” This leads directly into our Sunday Gospel where Jesus says at the end of the parable (Matt 20:16) “thus, the last will be first and the first will be last.” This pattern of repeating information in reverse order to make a point is called a chiastic structure. The two parables are split by chapters in the Gospel but inexorably connected by the importance of the emphasis of the words.

If we take a closer look at the emphasis of Jesus – “thus, the last will be first and the first will be last” – the most common interpretation is God’s love transcends wealth and class. The poor in Jesus’ day were considered second class citizens and the wealthy and powerful deserved salvation because of their status. The poor and the lame were considered to be less deserving of God’s love than the wealthy and powerful. Jesus reminds us that this is not true with God.

Our lesson from the parable is to see with the eyes of God. The increasing expectations of the workers led to their unhappiness when they received their pay. By virtue of the fact that they worked longer they concluded that they deserved more pay than the other workers, in essence, the other workers deserved less. How often do we make these types of comparisons in our life? How many times have we concluded that we deserved more than others because of who we are or what we have done, or that others deserved less?

Let me put this to you again in a more Catholic context. How many times have we compared ourselves to the Catholic who only comes to Mass on Christmas and Easter? We feel that by virtue of our Mass attendance or the number of rosaries we say that we are somehow more deserving of God’s love. A more accurate way to state this is; by only coming to Mass on Christmas and Easter those Catholics deserve God’s love less.

I am going to speak directly to the traditionalist Catholics when I say; how many times have we concluded that we are more deserving of God’s love because we have stayed true to the traditional teachings of the Church? Again, because some Catholics have broken from tradition they deserve God’s love less.

Jesus has clearly said that our rising expectations based upon our comparisons to others will lead to our discontent. It is our envy of God’s generosity that drives resentment.

Let me reset this in a positive way. If the all-day workers did not compare their pay to the others there would be no grumbling. Better still, if the all-day workers celebrated the generosity of the vineyard owner, and were pleased that all workers received a full day’s wages, what happiness would fill their lives?

Thus, if the traditionalist Catholic celebrated the generosity of God’s love of the Catholic who only attends Mass on Christmas and Easter what happiness would fill their lives?

It is human nature to compare ourselves to others, but we can choose happiness instead. If there is one thing to take away from this homily it must be the understanding that you can choose to compare yourself to others and live your life in grumbling discontent, or choose to celebrate people in your life and be happy.

Jesus is asking us to see with the eyes of God, not the eyes of mankind. In God’s eyes nobody is more deserving of God’s love than anybody else. If we want real happiness in our lives we should not have expectations that our wealth or class make us more deserving of God’s love.

It is not easy and I am sure there are many traditionalist Catholics who, like the rich young man, are unwilling to part with the belief that they are more deserving than other Catholics. I pray that you choose happiness instead.

God bless,