Homilies for October 2016

jesus-goes-up-to-jerusalem-artwork-by-james-tissot-for-october-homilies

With Passover Approaching, Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem (1886-94), by James Tissot.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time—October 2, 2016

Readings: HAB 1:2-3; 2:2-4; PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2 TM 1:6-8, 13-14; LK 17:5-10

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/070316.cfm  

Exegetical notes
During the next five Sundays, our Gospel reading (Luke 17-19) will invite us to accompany Jesus on his journey towards Jerusalem. En route, we will witness how the fulfillment of our salvation, Jesus Christ, brings all peoples back to God through sacrificial service and love. We will be summoned to strengthen our faith and “to do likewise.”

The book of the prophet Habakkuk—whose name literally means “to embrace” or “to wrestle”—invites us to grapple with the question, why does the evil one prosper? God’s response is two-sided: on the one hand, the evil one will not prosper at the end of the day; on the other hand, “the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

Continuing with this Sunday’s call to strengthen our faith, the responsorial psalm invites us to soften our hearts, to hear God’s voice, and to rejoice in the fact that we are God’s chosen ones.

The Second letter to Timothy is Paul’s last will and testimony. In it, he exhorts his friend and disciple, Timothy—and with him all of us as well—to be steadfast in the faith, especially in the midst of suffering and persecution.

The remote context of today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’ stern warning against causing others to sin, and his demand that we forgive those who have sinned against us, every time they ask for our forgiveness (Luke 17:1-4). Sobered by Jesus’ stern warning and his high demands, the apostles cried out: “Lord, increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). In response, Jesus described how great faith is supposed to look like. The disciples came to have great faith after the Resurrection. Do we, post-Resurrection disciples, exhibit such faith?

Homily
Not long ago, I was directing a confirmation retreat. At a certain point during the retreat, I asked the young men and women gathered there to share with the group which was their favorite part of the Mass. Without missing a bit, a young woman, I will call “Mary,” said: the profession of faith! When prompted to explain, Mary told us that when she was a little girl, her family had had to deal with an event that had changed their lives completely. Years after the event, Mary’s mother told her that their daily recitation of the Creed was a reminder of God’s everlasting presence and steadfast love, as well as the serious implications of believing in God.

All of us join our voices in the recitation of the Creed every Sunday. During the profession of faith, we remind each other of our faith in one God, Father, Son, and Spirit—a God who has given us the gift of faith. We acknowledge that we have received a supernatural gift that moves our hearts, opens the eyes of our minds, and empowers us to do what ourselves, and others, deem impossible. And what seems more impossible than to forgive those who have hurt us—especially if they have done it not only once, but twice, thrice, or even more times?

You see, when Mary was a baby, her family lost everything they had. This happened because Mary’s older brother, John, was kidnapped. The leader of the gang that kidnapped John demanded big sums of money in return for John’s life. After Mary’s family had given the man everything they had, all they received in return was John’s lifeless body in a bag. A couple of years later, the same man showed up at their home, unannounced, and asked them to forgive him for what he had done. “I am dying of an aggressive illness,” he told them, “and I would like to be reconciled before I go.”

Mary’s father wanted nothing to do with the man. Mary’s second-oldest brother refused to even acknowledge the man’s request for forgiveness. Mary’s sister spoke of her intense desire for the man to die of a horrific death so that he would pay for what he had done. This kind of talk went on and on for days. Mary’s mother, however, kept silent, listening attentively as her family uttered hateful-thing after hateful-thing against the man who had been responsible for the untimely death of her oldest son.

One night, while the family discussed the man’s request for what felt like the thousandth time, Mary’s mother got up from the table and went into her bedroom. After a while, she came back into the dinning room, sat down, and with a broken yet firm voice, started reciting:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints…

At this point, Mary’s mother made a long pause. Almost in a whisper, she continued:

the forgiveness of sins (… And then she repeated in a louder voice ) I believe in the forgiveness of sins. (And a third time, she shouted:) I believe in the forgiveness of sins! (After a long silence, Mary’s mother said:) Forgive if you want to be reunited with our beloved John. Forgive if you want to take part in the resurrection of the body. Forgive if you want to enjoy life everlasting.

For further reading, see Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Profession of Faith, nos. 142-165.

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Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time—October 9, 2016


Readings: 2 KGS 5:14-17; PS 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 2 TM 2:8-13; LK 17:11-19http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071016.cfm

Exegetical notes
The First and Second Book of Kings contain a theological analysis of the political history of Israel. The story of Naaman, the Syrian, a commander who is healed of leprosy by Elisha in the Second Book of Kings, reminds us of the power of unbounded faith and of its connection with gratitude.

The responsorial psalm invites us to sing joyfully to the Lord for all that God’s mighty power, and wondrous deeds, have done for all the nations.

The Second letter to Timothy exhorts us “to die so that we might live” and “to persevere so that we might reign” with God. The reassurance of faith we are given is that “even if we deny God, God will remain faithful.”

There are several parallels between the first reading’s story and the one from Luke’s Gospel:

(i) Naaman and the Samaritan are both foreign lepers seeking to be healed by a Godly Jew;
(ii) both are asked to perform simple gestures to regain their health;
(iii) both are healed because of their (reluctant) faith;
(iv) both return praising God; and,
(v) both are reincorporated into their respective societies to become a sign of faith for all.

Homily
In 2014, I was invited to take part on a Global Fellows trip to Tanzania with Catholic Relief Services. Those of us whose parishes participate in Rice Bowl during Lent know that CRS works in 101 countries around the globe, doing amazing work in agriculture, emergency response and recovery, health, microfinance, justice and peace building, water and sanitation, and education.

During my summer trip with CRS, my group had a chance to meet with a couple of farm workers in Songea. The husband told us how CRS had helped them build core skills to bring their goods to markets, and to stabilize their income. After we left the couple to continue on our journey, we kept talking about the experience. I was fascinated by all the good we, U.S. Catholics, were doing in Songea, and wanted to know how we could do more. One of our companions, however, was troubled and wanted to know the reasons why a Catholic organization would do work in favor of non-Catholics. You see, the couple with whom we had talked was non-Catholic. In fact, they were Muslim, just like the majority of people in Tanzania who receive help from CRS.

Why, indeed, work in favor of those who are not “one of us”? And even more, why, indeed, help those who might be considered “our enemies”? Today’s Liturgy of the Word invites us to ponder these questions.

Naaman was not a Jew. In fact, he was a commander of the Syrian military. The leper who went back to thank Jesus was a Samaritan; that is, he was not only a non-Jew, he was also someone considered an enemy. And yet, Elisha, a Jewish prophet, cured Naaman; and Jesus, a Jew and the Son of God, healed the Samaritan leper.

It seems clear that a first hint of an answer is that the power of God can neither be circumscribed, nor contained by human prescriptions or standards. For that reason, we are invited to rejoice and be glad, for God has made known His salvation to all the world. This is why we responded to the good news announced in the first reading by singing joyfully, in thanksgiving and admiration, for all that God’s mighty power and wondrous deeds have done for all the nations.

A second hint of an answer to the question of working in favor of the foreigner, and the “enemy,” is that faith responds to faith, not to creed or allegiance. Both Naaman and the Samaritan had to get in touch with their faith. Once they did, the healing followed. In other words, faith resides in the heart and soul of each human being, and once it is “freed” or “activated,” God uses it to do marvelous deeds. Their healing brought forth further signs of the presence of the Spirit within them: joy, generosity, and thanksgiving.

Ultimately, our faith demands of us a radical change in the way we see the world: Elisha did not see a Syrian commander; Jesus did not see a Samaritan. No! They saw children of God in search for healing, for reconciliation, for reintegration, for love, and for peace. And that is our challenge today: Do we see creed or color of skin or nationality or political affiliation or social class instead of seeing sons and daughters of God?

Keep in mind that participating in the Eucharist is, in and of itself, a radical act because here we have already declared that we are all equal, that there are no enemies, that we recognize in each other seeds of faith that look for healing of mind, body, and spirit. That is why at the end of each Eucharist, we leave giving thanks and praise: for God’s mighty power has indeed done wondrous deeds for all of us, and for all the nations!

For further reading, see Catechism of the Catholic Church: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, nos. 2258-2330.

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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time—October 16, 2016


Readings: EX 17:8-13; PS 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18:1-8 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071716.cfm 

Exegetical notes
This section of the Book of Exodus needs to be read while keeping in mind YHWY’s desire to rescue his people, and to bring them to Sinai under the guidance and care of both Joshua (fighting) and Moses (praying). 

The responsorial psalm invites us to keep the faith, especially during difficult times, remembering that God not only creates, but also sustains. 

The Second letter to Timothy exhorts us to “remain faithful” and “to proclaim the word … whether it is convenient or inconvenient; {and to} convince, reprimand, {and} encourage through all patience and teaching.”

The remote context of today’s Gospel passage is the persecution that the Church is experiencing, and the “long overdue” Parusia that makes it increasingly difficult for Christians to keep their faith through the darkest of days.

Homily
Our readings today were written during times of trial and difficulty. However, they reflect a spirit of courage and faith, of temperance and hope, of justice and love. These readings seem particularly à-propos since the time to vote is fast approaching. You can feel it in the air. Unfortunately, the vibes I am getting are rather gloomy and pessimistic. I have been told that many have already decided that it is useless to vote; that justice and peace will never be achieved because the option to find a champion for these worthy causes seems to be meager at best. To all those who have succumbed to the temptations of cynicism, defeatism, and pessimism, I say:

Look at the woman in our Gospel story today:

  • She is a woman in a patriarchal society;
  • She cannot inherit without her husband; and
  • She is at the mercy of a corrupt and unprincipled judge.

We could say that she is the epitome of powerlessness!
However,

  • She embraces her being totally dependent on God;
  • She knows that justice is on her side; and thus,
  • She dares to be feisty, and ends up bringing forth justice.

The judge, on the other hand, neither fears God nor respects people—some translations read: “he has no shame.” However, he decides to give the widow what rightly belongs to her, not out of the goodness of his heart, but because her persistence has given him a political black eye; that is, everybody knows she is right and he has failed to give her what is her due.

Can you imagine what would have happened, had the widow become cynical or pessimistic? Can you see how such an attitude would have ended up allowing the status quo to remain unchallenged and unmoved?

It is the same with us: like the widow, we may feel powerless or overpowered or ignored. However, Jesus offers us this parable to remind us that, even in the midst of strife and difficulty, we must go on, we must insist, we must pray, and, yes, we must fight. Just like Moses kept praying, and Joshua kept fighting, we are expected to pray and fight for this our moment of truth, and indifference or disengagement are not options for us.

Keep in mind that Jesus, the Son of God, assured us:

God will secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.

So, what are you waiting for? Call out in faith! Declare with conviction:

  • I have faith!
  • I am not alone in this fight!
  • We can bring about justice and peace through prayer and participation!

And pray with full-hearted faith:

  • For the protection of each individual human life, from conception to death;
  • For the defense and advancement of human dignity and human rights;
  • For the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and the family; and,
  • For the promotion of the common good through solidarity and subsidiarity.

Jesus’ parable uses the idea of justice and of rights in relation to one of the most vulnerable members of his society: a widow. Can we pray and work for the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the rejected in our midst? Can we replace cynicism with faith, defeatism with participation, and pessimism with confidence in the Lord?

In the words of Paul to Timothy, may our participation be a reflection of our call:

  • to pray without ceasing;
  • to remain faithful;
  • to proclaim the Word, whether it is convenient or inconvenient; and
  • to convince, reprimand, and encourage through all patience and teaching.

For further reading, see USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, pp. 6- 20.

___________ 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time—October 23, 2016


Readings: SIR 35:12-14, 16-18; PS 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23; 2 TM 4:6-8, 16-18; LK 18:9-14http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072416.cfm  

Exegetical notes
The Wisdom of Sirach names God a “God of justice,” a God who does not disregard the plea of the poor, but answers it without delay.

The responsorial psalm reiterates the message given to us by Ben Sirach: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” 

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul proclaims that the God who accompanied him during his trial will be the same God who will crown him with glory at his passing from this world.

Like the parable of the persistent widow, today’s parable is about prayer. However, while last Sunday’s parable was about praying with persistence, this Sunday’s parable is about praying with humility. 

Homily
Before you sit too comfortably and add your condemnation of the Pharisee to that of Jesus, let me invite you to consider the following:

The Pharisee deserves our respect. After all, he was one amongst the men who financed the Synagogues’ religious services; he had zeal in his desire to follow the letter of the Law—I mean, he fasted twice a week, and gave 10 or 15% of his income to the Synagogue; and he possibly occupied a high place among the religious authorities of his time. He was a good man, indeed!

The tax collector, on the other hand, was a despicable man. He was, indeed, nothing but a conniving thief and a traitor. He worked for the occupying power, the Roman Empire, and overcharged his fellow countrymen so that he could keep the extra money for himself. Do not imagine the tax collector as a poor man. Oh, no! He did well for himself, and kept apart from the poor people he exploited, considering himself to be superior to the rest of them.

Why was it then, you may be asking now, that Jesus praised the tax collector and disliked the Pharisee’s prayer? Simply put, because the Pharisee forgot what prayer is all about! In other words, if our prayer life does not have a direct impact in how we see, judge, and treat others and ourselves, then we have missed the picture entirely.

In the Gospel of Matthew (7:1-5), Jesus issues a clear command:

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

The Pharisee may have followed the letter of the Law to a “t” but he knew nothing about the Spirit of the Law. The tax collector, on the other hand, understood—even if at an intuitive level—that as a sinner, he was in dire need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was guided and moved by the Spirit of the Law.

How many times have we heard harsh judgments and condemnations during the past months? How many times have we covertly or overtly acquiesced to such judgments? How many times have we moved from a place of disbelief to a place of indifference or, even worse, to a place of support when individuals’ reputations have been ruined through gossip and/or innuendo, when entire groups of peoples have been demonized without any nuance or factual evidence, and when categories of human beings have been denigrated and rejected as if they were less than human?

Brothers and sisters: let us pray! Let us pray to God that our prayer, our liturgy, and our spiritual life do not become a source of pride, of false assurance of our self-righteousness, of exaltation and privilege “for the few of us who are worthy.” Instead, let us acknowledge that all of us are repentant sinners, in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love.

After all, that is why we begin every Eucharist with the Confiteor, a public confession of our sinfulness, and a clear plea for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Further, we utter the same request during the Our Father when we plea: “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Furthermore, we beg for God’s mercy one last time during the Lamb of God, right before we receive the Body and Blood of the Crucified Lord, the One who died for our sins: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!”

May our plea to the God who hears the cry of the poor, the humble, and the sinner be heard today. May all of us, repentant sinners, pray with humble hearts so that we may go back home justified. Amen!

For further reading, see Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Lord’ Prayer / The Seven Petitions, nos. 2838-2845.

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Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time—October 30, 2016


Readings: WIS 11:22-12:2; PS 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14; 2 THES 1:11-2:2; LK 19:1-10http://usccb.org/bible/readings/073116.cfm

Exegetical notes
The Book of Wisdom reminds us that everything God creates, including the sinner, is good. Hence, the sinner is not abandoned or rejected, but rather invited to a gradual process of conversion that will lead him or her back to God.

Psalm 145 confirms the intuitions of the Book of Wisdom and proclaims: “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”

At the beginning of his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives thanks to God for the Church in Thessalonica, and exhorts the community to remain steadfast in the faith, and in the practice of good works.

The context of today’s Gospel passage (Luke 18:15-43) shows us that Jesus has come to reverse the ordinary: He welcomes the insignificant (children and the blind beggar); he places heavy demands on the rich, while leaving the door open for their conversion (the rich young ruler and in today’s Gospel, Zacchaeus); and he blesses those who want to see (the blind beggar and Zacchaeus).

Homily
En route towards Jerusalem, Jesus had been busy: he rebuked those who were trying to prevent children from getting near him by saying: “let the little children come to me and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” Then, he engaged in a conversation with a rich young ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life, but who was ultimately unable to follow him because he was chained to his wealth. Finally, as he drew near Jericho, Jesus heard the plea of a blind man and restored his sight, telling him, “Your faith has saved you.”

Zacchaeus’ story of conversion is a summary of these three stories: in his desire to see Jesus, Zacchaeus is like the blind man and the children. Like the children, however, Zacchaeus is unconcerned with what others may think of him: he climbs a tree without concern for what such silly action may do to his reputation as chief tax collector, and he pays no attention to what others may say with regards to his being a public sinner who wants to get close to a holy man. And finally, unlike the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus offers, without prompting from Jesus, to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay four times over to all those he may have extorted.

Zacchaeus was a public sinner. He was a mercenary and a thief. No way to deny that. However, his childish enthusiasm and overflowing joy at seeing Jesus, and at being able to welcome him into his home, speaks of a profound readiness to change, to repent, to convert, and to give everything up in order to become a true follower of Jesus. What did Jesus see in Zacchaeus if not a son of God, a creature of the Most High God, a son of Abraham who was ready to come back to the Father’s house?

Moved by grace, Zacchaeus turned toward God, and away from sin, and so accepted forgiveness and righteousness from on high. Jesus’ divine initiative allowed the work of grace to precede, prepare, and elicit the free response of Zacchaeus. Since grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom, Zacchaeus cannot but respond to Jesus’ invitation to dine with him.

Notice that Jesus does not demand a plea for mercy, or a declaration of sorrow on the part of Zacchaeus. Jesus does not even question Zacchaeus about his faith, his level of repentance, his conversion or his desire to be his disciple. Instead, Jesus simply acts with great graciousness, mercy, and kindness. He is compassionate toward Zacchaeus, the public sinner, and does not abandon him or reject him, but offers him the gratuitous gift of life, healing of his sins, and ultimately, sanctification.

The story of Zacchaeus stands as a great challenge for those among us who are often tempted to disregard people as hopeless. It stands as a rebuke to those of us who, having labeled other as “murderers,” “terrorists,” “racists,” “rapists,” ignore the fact that Jesus can, and will, save all those who repent and beg for mercy: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus’ central mission was to seek and to save the lost. For this reason, he took great pains to take the initiative to find those who were lost. It is possible for us to imagine that as Zacchaeus was climbing the tree to see Jesus, Jesus was already looking at him, “seeking” him out so that he could be saved. May our participation in this Eucharist give us the sight of Jesus so that we may not label and condemn sinners, but seek them out and help them find their way back to God. Amen!

For further reading, see Catechism of the Catholic Church / Grace and justification, nos. 1987-2029.

Fr. Leo Almazán, O.P. About Fr. Leo Almazán, O.P.

Fr. Leo Almazán, O.P. was ordained for the Dominicans (a.k.a. Order of Preachers) in 2005. He holds a STD in Moral Theology from the Alphonsian Academy in Rome. He is a member of Dominicans for Justice and Peace, a NGO with accreditation at the UN. He is also a member of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious affairs of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Fr. Leo is presently Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology where he teaches Fundamental Moral Theology, Catholic Social Teaching, and Sexual Ethics.

Comments

  1. Kamweti joseph says:

    Thanks fr leo for the rekindling,enlighting and encouraging homilies.