Homilies for September 2022

For September 4, September 11, September 18, and September 25

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 4, 2022

Readings: Wis 9:13–18bPs 90:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 14 and 17Phmn 9–10, 12–17Lk 14:25–33    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/090422.cfm

Are you willing to lay it down? In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis rightly identifies God as the “great iconoclast.” One might say that, since the beginning, God’s mode of operation has been to shatter the idols within man — to reorient, as it were, the loves of the human heart. The kind of discipleship that we are called to by our Lord requires this reorienting of loves. For if we place our love for any created thing above our love for the person of Jesus Christ, we have placed an idol upon the throne which belongs to Him alone. If we place our love for anything above our love for Jesus, we limit the freedom we have to respond to Him as His disciples.

This reorienting of loves requires sacrifice. There is a great cost of committing our lives totally to Jesus. If we desire to follow Christ as His disciples, we are called to lay down those things which keep us from giving Him our hearts in total commitment: relationships, possessions, and, indeed, even the self. In our Gospel today, Jesus turns and addresses the multitude of people following Him and says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This is yet another hard saying from Jesus. But what exactly is He inviting the great crowds and His disciples to? Does this mean that those who desire to follow Christ as His disciples must necessarily sever family bonds? Does this mean that those seeking to follow Christ must necessarily disregard their own life?

Not by any means. If taken literally, Jesus would be contradicting the commandment of honoring one’s father and mother and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. What Jesus challenges us to, by using the Jewish hyperbole of hating something or someone, is to place our love and commitment toward Him above all else — to reorient our loves in their proper order. Authentic discipleship, then, requires a specific sacrifice; to lay down our preferences and desires for the sake of following Him and the building up of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

If we can lay it down — relationships, possessions, and even the self — then we can take up the cross and follow Him. But this is easier said than done! As we know, the idea of laying down our personal interests and desires for the sake of discipleship is contrary to today’s conventional wisdom. By contrast, we are bombarded with the idea of self-indulgence rather than self-gift. It is as if we live in a culture that has forgotten the value of sacrifice — of laying down certain goods for a greater good. Instead, the wisdom of the world conveys a contrary pattern of living — hold on to as much as you can.

What then must be done? Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom gives us insight to make “the paths of those on earth” straight. We are called to receive and respond to the wisdom of God, Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom of God who calls us to offer up the necessary sacrifices of discipleship. He is the wisdom of God who challenges us to the reorientation of loves — to then love Him with all of who we are.

Jesus is worth the cost of laying it all down. How do we know this? Christ is not calling us to something altogether new. Christ is calling us to do what He Himself has done. To lay it all down! He is the one who descended from the Father, that we might ascend to glory. He is the one who preeminently carried the cross and gave His life, that we might live. He laid it all down out of love for you and for me. The question is, will we lay it down, no matter the cost, out of love for Him and for the life of the world?

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 11, 2022

Readings: Ex 32:7–11, 13–14Ps 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 191 Tm 1:12–17Lk 15:1–32  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091122.cfm

“I will rise and go to my Father” (Luke 15:18). Our Gospel passage this Sunday presents three parables illustrating the boundless pursuit of the Father’s mercy (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son). At the core of Luke’s Gospel, then, we find a unique spiritual dynamic — God seeks what is lost to restore it to intimacy with Himself.

It is this relentless love and pursuit of sinners, those who are far from the Father, that awakens something new in the heart of man. Upon realizing God’s merciful search for us, we are able to make the move of the younger son — we are able to come to our senses and say, as we did in our Responsorial Psalm, “I will rise and go to my Father.” God’s search for us, in our need and in our wandering, elicits our search for and return to Him!

The parable of the Prodigal Son, the third parable found in our Gospel today, is a passage that has found affinity and resonance with many saints through the ages. In particular, St. Augustine, in his Confessions, uses the theme of the Prodigal Son as one of the main threads of his perennial work. For Augustine, the physical distance of the younger son is akin to the distancing of the heart from God. The more Augustine sought to find fulfillment in creatures, the farther he found himself from peace, security, and meaning.

Augustine articulates this truth when he writes, “I fell from thee, O my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland.”1 The more Augustine wandered from the Father, the more he felt the loss of his “true support.” Just as the younger son experienced the famine of the foreign land, Augustine’s own heart became a “wasteland” the farther he found himself from God.

We too experience the loss of peace, security, and meaning when we distance ourselves from the Father — when we depart from the Father’s house. This is the reality of sin. When we turn from God, and toward things, there is a belief that the Father is suspect, that He cannot satisfy, and that He cannot provide. It is from this point of departure that we take our inheritance and attempt to look for satisfaction in far off lands. However, it is then that we experience hunger, rather than satisfaction, emptiness rather than realization. This is the famine and emptiness of sin.

So, what are we to do if we find ourselves like the younger son? What are we to do if we, like St. Augustine, have wandered too far from our Heavenly Father? Trusting in His mercy, which pursues us daily, we are called to “rise and go” to our Father. We are called to turn our hearts from those things that are without and turn our heart’s gaze within — the dwelling of our Loving God.

What might this look like for you and me? The parable of the Prodigal Son summarizes for us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is there where our Merciful Father awaits and likewise rejoices upon our return. “Rise and go” to the Father, leave the remote lands of sin behind, and know there will be “great rejoicing among the angels of God” upon your return to grace.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 18, 2022

Readings: Am 8:4–7Ps 113:1–2, 4–6, 7–81 Tm 2:1–8Lk 16:1–13    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091822.cfm

At the conclusion of our Gospel passage, Jesus speaks clearly and imperatively: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Before each one of us there is a choice to be made. Which master shall we serve, God or mammon? It is this fundamental decision that stands before each Christian disciple. Ultimately, the master whom we decide to serve will determine the way in which we see the world and carry out our actions. What Jesus is teaching this Sunday, then, is of no little importance.

St. Ignatius of Loyola offers us a mediation in his Spiritual Exercises that provides a helpful illustration to gauge our stance on the spiritual journey — to gauge which master has a hold of our hearts. About halfway through his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites the retreatant to enter into the Meditation of the Two Standards. In the meditation we come to realize that there are two forces — two masters — that are competing for our minds and hearts… Jesus Christ and Satan. Both are vying for our attention and fidelity. While Satan presents to us the allure of wealth, possessions, and power, as the aim and end of our lives, Jesus Christ presents to us the way of spiritual poverty and humility.

Under the tutelage of the first master, who represents the spirit of the world, we are led to believe that material possessions are the “be-all and end-all” of life. Everything else is for the sake of accumulating more wealth, possessions, and power. If we give our hearts to Christ, on the other hand, we are given a different and life-giving perspective. When Christ is the master of our hearts, we come to the realization that all is gift. All the goods that we are given, whether material or spiritual, become reason for gratitude rather than greed. It is then that we can use the goods we have received for the glory of God and the good of others. It is then that we become “trustworthy” stewards of the wealth that has been given and entrusted to us from above.

We might think about Christ’s mission statement at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18). When Jesus is our master, he frees us and recovers our sight. Once we give ourselves over to Jesus as our one master, we are free from sin’s mastery over us and our vision is opened. Wealth and the goods of creation lose their domineering force, and we can use them as means of generosity and the building up of the Kingdom.

The Master, Jesus Christ, invites us to take our stance under His “standard” — to choose the “freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). May we choose Christ as our master and direct our wealth and possessions, not for our own ends, but for His glory.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 25, 2022

Readings: Am 6:1a, 4–7Ps 146:7, 8–9, 9–101 Tm 6:11–16Lk 16:19–31  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/091822.cfm

On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis promulgated the encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, highlighting man’s responsibility to live and to share the vigor and joy of the Gospel. This is the call given to us by our Lord Jesus. However, you and I may feel at times that the vitality of the Gospel we are called to live has been dulled in our hearts. Surely, there are moments when it is difficult to live out our Christian faith, to live lives animated by charity, especially in a world that seems to be turned in on itself. Rather than focusing on ways we can use our goods and resources to lift others up from whatever kind of poverty they face, we have the tendency to focus on ways we can climb the ladder of prestige and comfort.

To accentuate this point, the Holy Father attests:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. (2; emphasis added)

Our readings this Sunday likewise teach us how the complacency of a covetous heart widens the chasm between ourselves and others, especially those in need. When we close ourselves in and fill ourselves up, our “desire to good fades” and eventually we, like the rich man, will experience the isolation of selfishness.

In our first reading, from the Book of the prophet Amos, we encounter an impassioned Amos who is exhorting the people of Israel to turn away from their overindulgence and neglect their mission as the chosen people. To give some context, Amos is prophesying at a time of great prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II (786­–746 B.C.) However, what followed the prosperity of Israel was corruption. Amos exclaims, “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall” (Amos 6:1a, 4). It seems that, rather than leading them to generosity and service toward God and man, the abundance of resources led Israel to feeding themselves.

This image of the complacency of Israel finds its highest pitch in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in our Gospel this Sunday. Just imagine the prosperity of the rich man. Imagine not only the abundance, but the extravagance of the food. In life, what separated the rich man from Lazarus was not the disparity of wealth, but the chasm of the complacent heart. The gap between the rich man and Lazarus was widened by the lack of charity. The rich man’s life was “caught up in its own interests . . .” and there was “no place for the poor.”

How often do we find ourselves caught up in the dynamic we hear this Sunday? How often do we find ourselves living out of the complacency of the covetous heart? The reality is, when we look only to fill our needs we overlook the needs of others — we overlook Lazarus present in our midst.

What then must we do in order to fend off the dulling of the conscience due to complacency? You and I are challenged this week by the words offered by St. Paul in our second reading: “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith” (1 Timothy 6:11). Compete against the indulgence of the rich man and live out the vigor of the Gospel. It is then that we find the fullness of life which we seek!

  1. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Albert Cook (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), Book II, Ch. X, 18.
Fr. Matthew Gonzalez About Fr. Matthew Gonzalez

Fr. Matthew Gonzalez is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark. He holds a BA in Catholic Theology from Seton Hall University, as well as an MDiv and an MA in Systematic Theology.

Comments

  1. While the rich man certainly lived a life of indulgence, there is no evidence in the actual text that he is being punished for anything he did to Lazarus or failed to do for Lazarus. Nothing like that gets so much as a mention during the conversation between Dives and Abraham in the afterlife. Lazarus is in the story to serve as a contrast to Dives’ hedonism and Dives’ eventual fate, nothing more.

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