Homilies for October 2020

For October 4, October 11, October 18, October 25

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 4, 2020

Readings: Is 5:1-7 • Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20 • Phil 4:6-9 • Mt 21:33-43 usccb.org/bible/readings/100420.cfm

The Jewish Scriptures tell us that God drove out wicked nations and gave a country to the Hebrews whom He had delivered from slavery in Egypt, God’s own chosen people. Today, for both Isaiah and Jesus, God’s people are a cultivated vineyard. But those same Scriptures also say that when the chosen abandoned God and chose their own ways, God used wicked nations as His instrument to drive them out into exile. The antiphon for this Mass reminds us, “Within your will, O Lord, all things are established, and there is none that can resist your will.” God is in control, will not be mocked, and intimately bound up with his vineyard.

There can be no misunderstanding Jesus. His parable is about Israel — who rejected God’s prophets and the landowner’s son. The psalmist says is no uncertain terms: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” Jesus says of it in terrifying words, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

So, is this an anti-Semitic message from Scripture? During the last two thousand years, many Christians have taken just that interpretation — judging Israel as unworthy, and then smugly, self-complacently, congratulating themselves as worthy, as better than anyone else. But this Mass paints a different picture. The Collect implores God “for mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer dares not ask.” Our act of Contrition at the beginning of the Mass, our prayer “Lord have Mercy,” our prayer before Communion: “Lord I am not worthy that you come under my roof” are not self-congratulatory; they are not a declaration of our worthiness or goodness, but a frank recognition of who we are.

Israel was chosen to bear the knowledge of God for the whole world, to be the vehicle by which all of us can accept God’s calling and invitation. God brought a vine out of Egypt and sent out its branches everywhere, and God’s Church, planted by Jesus, has spread throughout the world extending that invitation through the chosen people to everyone. When we accept that invitation, we become the new vineyard called to yield good fruit in the Church and in the world. To do that, God gives us the Scriptures, the teaching authority of the Church, the Sacraments so that each one of us can choose God’s ways rather than our own ways in our daily lives.

But the reality is that our fallen human nature can often yield not good grapes, but wild grapes — not good grain, but weeds. And what was true of Isaiah’s vineyard is no less true of ours. “He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” Each of us has the possibility of choosing or not choosing Him. When we do choose Him we come into our own; we bear good fruit. But when we decide for ourselves what is good and evil, we go our own way. The whole story of the garden of Eden is played out every day in our souls. Deep down in that inner room of our soul, we know what God wants us to do or not do, or to say or not say. Each time we turn away from that, and put ourselves first — put ourselves in the driver’s seat to go where we want, to live in ways that we know that God does not want from us — we become those to whom God says: “What more was there to do for my vineyard? I expected it to yield grapes; why did it yield wild grapes?”

But it seems so hard, doesn’t it? The truth is that we cannot bear good fruit on our own. Oh, for a time, we might do reasonably well — but sooner or later we find ourselves going our own way. We can’t help ourselves. We are, after all, only human. And that is why we are here — in this church, at this Mass — because we know that we cannot bear good fruit on our own. That is why God gives us the Sacraments, that is why we pray for each other. We come here relying upon the promise of today’s Communion Antiphon: “The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the soul that seeks Him.” That goodness comes to us not because we earn it through never falling or making mistakes, or congratulating ourselves on being Catholic Christians. It comes to us when, recognizing how short we fall from the mark, we pick ourselves up, reorient ourselves to God’s ways, and once again continue to hope, trust and seek Him — so that with the help of Him who called us into the vineyard, we might bear good fruit.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 11, 2020

Readings: Is 25:6-10A • Ps 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6 • Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 • Mt 22:1-14 or 22:1-10 usccb.org/bible/readings/101120.cfm

Last week, God gives us the devastating picture of what happens when we reject God, and He removes His favor. He has called us, but we have the freedom to choose Him and His ways, or ourselves and our ways . . . the garden of Eden played out every day in our lives.

But how can we make that choice daily? We can do it for a time, but sooner or later because of our fallen nature, we do choose ourselves, to do and say what in the depths of our hearts we know God does not want — or to not do and say what we know He does. We are only human, after all.

Is this a losing proposition? We might just look up to God saying: “Well, what did You expect?”

The antiphon for this Mass puts it this way: “If you should mark our iniquities, who could stand?” But this Mass tells us the rest of that proposition. . . “Yet with You is found forgiveness.” If last week we heard of the devastation of the vineyard, this week we hear the promise of grace . . . the grace prayed for us in the Collect: “May your grace at all times go before us and follow after us.”

God knew us before we were knit in our mother’s womb — and today Scripture assures us that He has called us to a wonderful destiny. Isaiah declares, “The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines strained clear. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears form all faces, and the disgrace of his people He will take away.” The great destiny, pictured like the joy of a great banquet, is offered freely to all people. God Himself takes care of our sorrows, our fall, our disgrace.

Isaiah also tells us that we wait — and our waiting, picking ourselves again when we fall, dusting ourselves off and turning again to the promise — this is our “Yes” to that destiny . . . the destiny the psalmist declares with joy: “He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths. He prepares a table before me.”

In the Gospel, Jesus confirms that destiny and the free gift of His grace. He sends invitations to the wedding banquet — but like any invitation, they can be rejected. The truth is many people do say “no,” choosing instead to do what they want in their own their way. But those who say ”yes” are to come in under no illusions that they have earned the invitation, that it is payment owed to them for being “better” than others. In the parable, the King sees a guest without a wedding robe. He has walked in on his own initiative, but this Mass tells us that we don’t enter heaven on our own steam, that we need the invitation, and that our RSVP, our acceptance, is accepting Christ who gives us the wedding garment, who washes away our sins as white as snow. Without God’s own grace, God’s own redemption, we have no place at the banquet. We cannot choose both our own ways in Eden, and God’s way in Heaven.

God has chosen us, and we choose Him when we say “yes” — and to say “yes” and keep saying “yes” as best as we can, even when we fall and fail, trying as best as we can to live as He calls us to, requires grace.

While we wait for the coming of the promised destiny, we can put on the wedding robe by turning daily to God, asking for His grace to choose His ways, not ours.

One way to do that is through a beautiful traditional devotion ascribed to St Patrick, that great saint of Ireland in the fifth century, St. Patrick’s breastplate:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise.

We receive such grace — the grace we need for every moment of our lives — in the sacraments: in Reconciliation when Christ forgives us; in the Eucharist when Christ comes to dwell in us. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And you can say in your heart at that moment, “Lord, you have chosen me and called me. Give me the grace to answer that call, to say ‘yes’ every day of my life.”

And then, trusting in God’s grace, we can say with the Psalmist: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 18, 2020

Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6 • Ps 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10 • 1 Thes 1:1-5B • Mt 22:15-21 usccb.org/bible/readings/101820.cfm

Some questions genuinely want to get to the bottom of things. Other questions are disingenuous traps — we call them “gotcha questions.” Jesus responds to one of those with a profound truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and give to God what is God’s.”

And in that moment, Jesus opens up a problem that so many of us have. We know so easily how to give the government its due — our taxes, our service — how is it that we do not know to give to God our sacrifice and our service? Or how is that when we do know, we so often fail to do it anyway? Why do we make choices that we know God does not want us to make? Why do we not choose those things what we know deep down that God wants us to do? And If we know how to call on the government, how is it we do not know to call upon God in trust at every moment of our lives. After all, which is the more reliable? Which is the more powerful and dependable? Which passes and which remains? Or do we really believe what Scripture tells us the answers to those questions are?

Today, God tells Cyrus the conqueror, who did not know God, that God had called him by name and would use him for God’s own purposes and glory. Well, if God calls Cyrus by name – how much more does He call His own people who bear His name, Christian, — and if he equips Cyrus for his task, how much more will He equip us for our vocation? The psalmist tells us exactly what that vocation is. We are to

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength

Sing a new song

Declare his glory among the nations

His marvelous works among all the peoples

This is our calling, our purpose, given to us at our Baptism and Confirmation. We are to declare in front of the world thanksgiving and praise to God, and He has even given us the words to do it. It doesn’t mean we have to be theologians, or able to answer trick questions like the ones the scribes put to Jesus; rather, it means that by our example of life — turning everything over to prayer, by putting God and His Ways first in our lives, by living as best we can the way He has called us to live — in this way, we fulfill our vocation of witnessing and glorifying God. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that He has chosen us for this.

We become, says the Gospel acclamation, “stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” You and I become stars of Bethlehem pointing to Christ.

That is why Father prayed for us at the beginning of this Mass, that God would grant that we conform our will to His in sincerity of heart.

But as soon as we hear that, we know, in our heart of hearts, that can’t do that very well. It can be hard sometimes in this confusing world, and with our weaknesses to hold fast to the word of life.

But the Antiphon of this Mass asks God to help us, hear us, and protect us in the shadow of His wings. The Communion Antiphon today answers that prayer. It says: The eyes of the Lord ARE on those who fear him and hope in Him. God’s grace helps now, at this moment, fulfilling God’s promise to help us in the present age to live out our vocation, and to enter our eternal destiny.

He is always there. It is when we do not call, when we do not turn to Him, that we are not in the shadow of His wings, under His care, when we are instead under judgement — we do that to ourselves. But when we bring ourselves as an offering to the Lord, by coming to this Mass, by saying “Yes” to the kind of life He calls us to, then, St. Paul tells us today, the Gospel comes to us not just in word, but in power and the Holy Spirit and full of conviction. In a moment, Father declares at the altar that he is offering “my sacrifice and yours.” Your sacrifice is your “yes,” making yourself available to God as His instrument in the world that so desperately needs a witness that there is a God of mercy — a God who invites all of us to shelter under His wings.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 25, 2020

Readings: Ex 22:20-26 • Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51 • 1 Thes 1:5C-10 • Mt 22:34-40 usccb.org/bible/readings/102520.cfm

Here’s another trick question — not one to get at the truth, but to trip Jesus up. Jesus used the trick question last Sunday — is it right to give to Caesar — to teach us something vitally important about the spiritual life. Today, he does the same. What is the greatest commandment in the Law? There were, after all, a lot of laws in ancient times, 613 of them. If you were living in the time of Jesus, you might wonder how you keep them all straight . . . or keep them at all.

But what about us? What about all the rules and regulations we have in the Church? Sometimes, we might feel there are a lot of rules for us, too. There is Canon Law, the Catechism, when to fast, Sunday obligations, confession of serious sin before Communion, and on and so on. Some people feel overwhelmed by all the rules. Some people resist them. Others simply do not follow them at all.

But Jesus tells us that all of the law, all of those rules in his time and all of the rules in ours, hang on two things: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and you shall your neighbor as yourself.

In that moment, Jesus tells us something vitally important. He points not to just keeping the rules, but to the motives behind everything in Catholic Christian living. We are called to live as God calls us through the Scriptures and the Church, not just to fulfill some kind of checklist, but rather to live as He has called us in order to love God, and our neighbor for His sake. When we do those things, we come into our own. We come into who God meant us to be and discover goodness in our lives — because it is all too easy to keep the rules and miss the point of it all. And for some people, it can even become an occasion of pride, self-congratulations that they are doing better than everyone else.

More than 1500 years ago, St Augustine declared, “All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love.” There was only one sure guide, he said; “Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will.” It means taking a hard look at what is behind everything we do.

It is a simple test — a question to ask in that inner room of our souls about everything we say and do. Are we saying something, doing something, out of love of God and neighbor or out of self-love? Does what looks like a good act really cover other motives — building a name for ourselves, pride, or selfish interest? It is not enough, this Mass tells us, to have everything in place on the surface. In fact, we can seek forgiveness, the mercy of God, when out of our fallen human nature we fall. But this Mass tells us, we must attend to what is beneath that surface.

A venerable Catholic spiritual practice can help us with this. It is called a daily examination of conscience. At the end of the day, we can ask ourselves two questions. The first is “where was God with me today?” And we can let that question evoke thanksgiving for God’s daily presence in so many ways — in Scripture, in other people, in providential events. The second question is “where was I not with God today?” And we can let that question honestly test whether what we did and said that day was rooted in love of God and love of neighbour, or not. When we examine what lies behind our actions in this way, we answer the call of the antiphon of this Mass: “Turn to the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face.” We seek His face because it is hard for us to even fulfill Jesus’ two commands, never mind all the rules that hang upon them. That is why Father prayed for all of us today that God would give us the grace to “make us love what You command” because we need God’s grace, God’s help to love Him and our neighbor.

Last week, the Mass called us to be shining stars who by the witness of our lives and our love point everyone we meet to Christ. This week the Mass calls us to what St. Paul called the Thessalonians — to sound forth the Word of God in every place as witnesses of a living and true God waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. And that witness, that Word, is to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Deacon Peter Lovrick About Deacon Peter Lovrick

Deacon Peter Lovrick holds a doctorate in homiletics from Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis University), is professor of homiletics at St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto, Canada, and is director of the diaconate formation program for the Archdiocese of Toronto. His publications include two books on Chinese opera, three books on English dealing with writing, presentations, and editing, and one book on homiletics entitled: Preaching in a New Season, which will be available in 2016.