9/20/2020

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

        


Homily
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


September 20, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a

            In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus teaches with a parable that underlines the overwhelming generosity and mercy of God announced by Isaiah in our first reading. The workers who arrive late at the vineyard could be referred to as outcasts separated from the fullness of the religious life of Israel, while those who work all day can be taken as those dutiful to the law of God all their lives.

These dutiful and law-abiding people were continually offended at Jesus’ interaction with the outcasts and the unclean, or the scoundrels and wicked as Isaiah calls them. Jesus’ reply to such criticism is both kind and stern. “Are you envious because I am generous? After all, even based on strict justice, the payment of the all-day workers is honest and even generous.

As we hear the final sentences of the Gospel, Jesus directs our questioning, reflection, and prayer toward His generosity and the need for our humility. The generosity of Jesus reveals to us the generosity of the Father in sending His Son to save us — the preeminent merciful act to which none of us are entitled. “Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness, but those who come to a realization of their need for God’s mercy will be drawn into the joy of His immeasurable love, while those who think and feel themselves to be only dutiful observers of His law may miss the gift of God’s glory that He offers us daily, or even miss God Himself.

Does the parable offend our sense of fairness and justice, or does it call us to enter more deeply into faith and trust in God’s authentic justice and mercy? Does the parable challenge us to rely on God’s grace — the daily bread for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer? This is the daily bread that the Master in the parable provides according to His own generosity to all who belong and labor in His vineyard. 

We are tempted to take our stand against the landowner along with those who were hired first and paid last. But as Isaiah reveals the words of the Lord in today’s first reading, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” If parables are to reveal the mysteries of God’s Kingdom, then we cannot look at this one as simply a lesson in the rules of justice and morality of labor relations. If we did, we would miss the point and reduce God’s ways and thoughts to fit our own.

What this parable focuses on is divine generosity and our conversion to God’s way, not simply the human justice, human equality, and human fairness of a fallen world. The landowner is more than an employer, he represents God and the laborers represent all of those who are adopted into His People by Him. The currency in God’s Kingdom is mercy, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness, and we are paid according to our need as well as our merit in light of the fullness of the truth. Saint Paul reminds us today that life is a gift and its goods are wonderful and worthy of our esteem, but they are nothing compared to the love of Christ — a love that sets us free and is unconditional. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Christ shows us in His full humanity, through His words, through His actions, and through His Cross, what human thinking, human speaking, and human acting in unity with the high thoughts and lofty ways of the Father looks like. Christ’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with His accompanying gifts and graces, enables us to think, to speak, and to act according to the high thoughts and lofty ways of God. Through His generosity and grace, His thoughts and ways soon transform our thoughts, our ways, our words, and our actions. For Jesus Christ is the answer to the prayer expressed in the 145th Psalm we prayed today: “the Lord is near to all who call on Him.”

Yet, we are tempted to act like the laborers who are first hired and paid last and try to reduce the high thoughts and lofty ways of God to the thoughts and ways of the limited scope and logic of our fallen world, a scope and logic that can only provide scarcity and suspicion, jealousy and resentment. This temptation currently looks like the misrepresentation of the Gospel of Life as only one part of a partisan platform or the fragmented positions of political candidates. To succumb to this temptation would make the Church subordinate to the power of the state through the public endorsement of candidates or the alignment of the Church with any one political party.

To be clear, the right to life is the preeminent human right established and given by God Himself as the right upon which all other human rights depend including: the right to the biologically determined and gendered integrity of human sexuality and marriage between one man and one woman, the right to family life, the right to religious liberty, the right to live in peace and security with sound borders, the right to migrate to sustain one’s life and the life of one’s family, the right to labor and a just and living wage, the right to private property, the right to clean and potable water, the right to be told the truth, the right to a good name, the right to basic healthcare, the right to access to an education sufficient for participation in the common good of a particular society to name but a few such rights. As Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in Christi Fideles Laici in 1988, “The inviolability of the human person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which  is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Thus, direct assaults on human life, especially upon vulnerable human life, through such social policies and practices as abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia cannot be supported or even tolerated for the sake of other rights or social goods to be enjoyed by others. We must begin with respect and protection of the inviolable right to life, but we as Catholics cannot end there. To live according to the high thoughts and lofty ways of God means that we must begin by respecting the inviolable right to life and to continue by respecting the other necessary human rights that are contingent upon the right to life. The high thoughts and lofty ways of God require of us the measured respect and fostering of each of these rights in an ordered and proportionate manner without exclusion of any of them for the sake of human dignity whereby the first shall be last and the last shall be first. This is in contradistinction with the ways of the fallen world that would entice us to break these rights apart and to mistreat them only as isolated and competitive points of self-interest within a partisan agenda where the first are first and the last are last.

The earliest name for the Church in the Acts of the Apostles is “the Way” which means “God’s way.” It most clearly does not mean “my way.” It is only by trust in God, nurtured through prayer and the grace of God, that we can be converted from our thoughts of undue entitlement and selfish ways to the high thoughts and lofty ways of God. Thoughts that without His grace are otherwise inaccessible to us. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him.”

9/13/2020

Homily for the Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

       



Homily
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time


September 13, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Sirach 27:30-28:7
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

            “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” This passage from the Book of Sirach today is a reflection on anger, vengeance, and forgiveness. Wrath and anger are destructive forces, and we tend to let them overtake us and drive us away from reason. We remember insults and injuries we have received and feel justified in returning the same. Unfortunately, our anger not only hurts others, but make us bitter and resentful and increasingly irrational. The offensive civil discourse of today is neither civil nor discourse because anger has taken over many of us and has foisted disorder into our shared common society.

The extreme positions of the political left and political right currently have something in common: anger and the refusal to accept accountability for one’s actions and responsibilities. They each have the desire to develop a system of government that does not require human beings to become morally virtuous. Both extremes foist upon the people a notion of government in which the government becomes the agent whereby the people become entitled to take little, if any, responsibility for their own actions or the actions of the society of which they are a part. This includes both the statist approach of the socialists and the laissez faire approach of government espoused by contemporary conservatism.

For us to say that individuals are distinct persons does not mean that they are selfish egoists. Rather, individuals can only flourish in a community through cooperation with one another with responsibility for their own behavior and the consequences of their behavior. This means that persons must cooperate with each other to survive physically, emotionally, spiritually; or we will end up interacting with each other as objects to suit our own selfish purposes. Cooperation is necessary also in the sense that the well-being and moral development of one’s own person is inherently linked to other persons’ well-being, and without other persons’ well-being, one’s own well-being would be substantively incomplete.

This is what comes into focus in the Gospel for this Sunday’s Mass — the parable of the unforgiving or unmerciful servant. Without excusing the unmerciful servant for his actions, we wonder how we often imitate those actions. How often do we forget how God has blessed us? How often do we not even realize what He has given us? Do we ever ask ourselves how we might repay God’s generosity to us? When Jesus commands us to forgive seventy-seven times, He is asking for perfection in forgiveness. Forgiveness takes time and involves our healing and grief of the pain that we have suffered from the injustice and harm done to us by another person. Remembering what we have been given and how often we have been forgiven allows the Holy Spirit to enter and change our hearts. After that, miracles can happen. And supreme among those miracles is mercy — given and received. This is the very thing that the unmerciful servant forgot in his dealings with his fellow servant who owed him so much less (literally, 100 days’ wages) than what he had owed his lord and master, who in showing him mercy, forgave him the entire debt (literally, 150,000 years’ wages.

It is important to remember that mercy is not the suspension of the moral order. Mercy does not ignore wrongdoing and sin. When we receive mercy and when we offer it to others we are reintroduced to the accountability of the children of God, just as the prodigal son was so reintroduced by his merciful father. This accountability maintains a structure of right order beginning with what we owe God but also involving human beings with a definite hierarchy with rights and responsibilities.

The fourth commandment is the duty one has to one’s parents: “Honor your father and your mother.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal.” But it also states that the fourth commandment “extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it.” Furthermore, “this commandment includes and presupposes the duties of parents, instructors, teachers, leaders, magistrates, those who govern, all who exercise authority over others or over a community of persons” (CCC §2199).

The Catechism calls us to consider that the fourth commandment establishes the foundation and order for the subsequent commandments revealed to Moses. These commandments not only serve for the salvation of the world, but also articulate human rights; among these are the right to life, the integrity of human sexuality and marriage, the right to property, the right to be told the truth, and the right to a good name. Thus, the fourth commandment “constitutes one of the foundations of the social doctrine of the Church” (CCC §2198).

It is important to note that the first three commandments articulate what we as human beings justly owe God, which is the virtue of piety. The fourth commandment follows upon this debt to God with what we owe other human beings, which is the virtue of justice. This human debt begins with our parents, father, and mother, and what follows in the subsequent commandments are the just delineations of other human relationships within and with society. 

We must remember that the commandments are the Covenant first made by God with Moses which makes the disparate group of refugee slaves into one chosen people — God’s chosen people on pilgrimage to the Promised Land. The Commandments are not an arbitrarily placed list of single and distinct imperatives united only in that they are ordered by God and intended for human obedience. As the Covenant, they are binding and follow each other in a clearly ordered and inherently united sense. Within God’s Covenant, each Commandment follows the previous one by drawing God’s people more deeply into the loving and just relationship of belonging to Him and to each other. The Commandments belong to each other in both substance and order; God’s people belong to each other in both the substance of family life and an order of political life, language, and culture.

For us to understand consciously and live well with each other as a nation we should recall that the Ten Commandments undergird our rights and responsibilities in an ordered manner, including the responsibility to forgive. Our civic responsibility as citizens also depends upon our understanding of forgiveness and mercy. This is the forgiveness and mercy we have received from God and the forgiveness and mercy that we are called to give to one another. This is the only path to freedom for us and the development of our consciences as faithful and not just angry citizens.

9/09/2020

Do we express the mystery of our common humanity, or do we do violence to it?

      

Bishop Michael Olson delivers his homily during the Mass for Peace Among People of All Races at Nolan Catholic High School Sept. 9, 2020. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


Homily
Feast of Saint Peter Claver
Mass for Peace Among People of All Races and in Time of War and Civil Disturbance


September 9, 2020
Nolan Catholic High School
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 58:6-11
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Matthew 25:14-23

            The Gospel of today speaks of three different servants who were given an unequal number of similar coins that were known as talents. The two servants who were given more, responded in generosity and gave all they had to the Master, who represents God. The third servant looks at the little he has been given and buries it out of fear and selfishness. He loses the little that he has been given because in hiding it he has abandoned generosity — a sure sign of ingratitude.

The point of the Gospel is that it demands that everything be risked for the sake of the Kingdom. One must not hold anything back of what God has given one in following Christ and in giving of oneself in service to Him and to one’s neighbor. My neighbor is not limited only to another person who shares my race, my skin color, my language, my ethnicity, my nationality, my religion, my gender, my hobbies and interests, my talents and or any other incidental quality about me. My neighbor frequently appears to be different from me in more ways than my neighbor is the same as me. So is your neighbor. Our differences though are woven together in our common humanity. Our common humanity affords each of us the opportunity and obligation to live the Golden Rule, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to treat each other with both justice and mercy, as found in the natural law that God has written in our hearts. Civil laws are unjust, whenever they are contrary to the natural law. Authentic justice is brought about first by conversion of heart and then, later, when necessary, through a change in the laws of the state.

Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah and written after a period of 50 years in which the people of Israel had been enslaved and oppressed illustrates this beautifully. Isaiah, faithful to his vocation as a prophet, reminds Israel that the Lord hopes to receive from them generosity showered upon the poor and just treatment of people different than them in place of revenge, because in liberating Israel from oppression, God has revealed that He doesn’t only belong to them — He is everybody’s God.

Saint Peter Claver was born in Spain and began life with a very shy disposition. Peter Claver had a spiritual experience of being called by God and at the encouragement of St. Alfonso Rodriguez, he joined the Jesuits and received his mission to serve in Colombia in South America, where he was ordained a priest in 1615. The spiritual encounter with God that Peter intimately experienced affected his soul and enabled him to recognize God’s unconditional love for all people and the human dignity of all people created in God’s image and likeness. This love experienced by Peter Claver brought forth an awareness and sensitivity to the attack on human dignity experienced by Africans who were victimized by other tribes of Africans and sold to the Spaniards and Portuguese who enslaved them, violently separating them from their homeland, their spouses, parents, and children. Peter Claver saw their dignity and made himself their servant.

Nolan Catholic High School students participate in Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Olson and Father Maurice Moon Sept. 9, 2020. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Almighty God always looks for the Good News in us. He looks for the talents He has given us. He is saddened when we hide them. He looks for where He can build more of His sovereignty in our lives to save us from the oppression of sin — injustice done to us and injustice done by us. Saint Paul reminds us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Through the gift of our Baptism, we are the instruments and ministers of that grace. Because of this, we hear His call and we enter with confidence into our surroundings of fear of people different than us; we enter with light into our surroundings of darkness, of distrust, and enmity of others different than us. Where there is hatred and misunderstanding, we are not to respond in kind. Our responsibility is to find the Good News in our neighbor just as God looks for the Good News in us. When we build upon the Good News, we envision a hopeful future by working on God’s project for His world in our present moment, without succumbing to the temptation to erase or deny our shared human history and to reject or deny our common humanity. Differences in race are one part of our shared human nature, our human nature is not built upon differences or sameness of race.

The person who buries the talent is the one who rejects God’s hope for him. This person denies that God can do anything beautiful with him or with others. This person is guilty of both despair and presumption. This person refuses to do his part, but demands that the Master, who is God, do everything on his behalf. Given that the Master is God, the plan of the Master must be rooted in love and in truth. In our contemporary society, we who have been given many diverse talents and graces must take note of the voices of those who are despairing and presumptuous today. We must not follow them or become enraged by their anger and shouts for anarchy by refusing to see the Good News in ourselves or others.

We cannot settle for the position that racial discord is simply a matter of systemic sin, because if it were a matter of systemic sin, there would be no hope for justice or redemption. Any system built or reformed by humans must always be flawed because we are fallen. Our hope is not in ourselves but in God Almighty Who loves us enough to offer to save us from ourselves and loves us so much that He invites us to join Him in His saving work. The difficulty is not in some alien system, but rather in ourselves. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered imprisonment in the unjust Soviet system, wrote in his book entitled the Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” That small bridgehead is our free will and our hope.

The change that is required is not a change in society brought about by theories or violent acts of anarchy; the change required is not a perfect enforcement of our laws; the change required is my own conversion of heart and your own conversion of heart to see in each and every human person a mysterious dignity measured only by the image and likeness of God. 

Our shared mission entrusted to us by God requires on each of our parts a renewed gratitude and celebration of our common humanity; a humanity that is able to be expressed by us but not mastered by us, a humanity that is not exploited by us, nor exhausted of its meaning by us. Does the language we hear in our streets and in our social media express the mystery of our common humanity? Or, does it do violence to it? What about our own language? How do we express the mystery of our common humanity as the place where God chooses to redeem us? Our responsibility is to point to the solution which only God has revealed fully in the humanity of His Son Jesus Christ — a humanity by which He saves us and a humanity that we share in common with Christ and with each other. That should be the subject of our prayer these days.

Saint Peter Claver was a champion of the God-given dignity of all human beings. He did not bury his talents, nor should we. He did not give up hope in the Good News, nor should we.  St. Peter Claver shows us that to bring the Gospel and compassion to all persons in our common humanity is not only not impossible but absolutely required in our Christian lives. Dare we do any less?

9/06/2020

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

     

"If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault
between you and him alone." (Matthew 18:15)


Homily
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 6, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

            Some of us are old enough to remember a time when television would stop broadcasting at about one or two in the morning. The day would conclude with a brief 5-minute reflection on life offered by a local member of the clergy followed by the national anthem and then a test pattern or color bar would be displayed until the early morning awaiting the start of the new day.  This was also a time before we had cycles of 24-hour news. There would be an evening newscast around the dinner hour, a second newscast at ten o’clock at night, and that would be about it.

Now, the news is something we no longer stop to watch and listen to, it is something that is constant; in fact, with our cellular telephones and cameras and recorders, news has become something we make and about which we editorialize. It seems that too many people have a video blog, not to mention a Facebook account; we have moved from people who “have something to say” to become people who “have to say something.” What passes for communication today is the direct delivery of partial information with inadequately formed opinion to a set of individuals we do not really know or care about. This rings especially true as we approach the presidential election.

            In our first reading, Ezekiel does not have to say something, but he does have something to say to his people about whom he cares and loves. The Israelites have just returned from exile to the Promised Land.  Ezekiel the prophet, faithful to God’s call, is trying to rebuild the shattered nation and renew the spirit and hope of his people. He describes himself as a watchman. Such figures were familiar to his audience; watchmen were stationed in the hills to warn the people of approaching danger. Ezekiel’s work is to warn his people not to forget who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do, so they do not fall into wickedness and sin.

Ezekiel’s work was a bit difficult since people who have spent years away from home as exiles tend to forget their traditions and develop new ones. They often adopt the religious beliefs and practices of their conquerors. They become like everybody else. The Israelites did this — they forgot the God of their ancestors with His saving deeds and great generosity. But before we are too quick to blame, we ought to recognize that we too often forget God. Perhaps many of us have forgotten to teach about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and what Christ continues to teach throughout the previous 2,000 years of the ministry of the Church. And in our refusal not to forget, we begin to act like everyone else in our society and world. We forget the things we are called to do as people of faith and what Christ has taught us through Sacred Scripture and tradition in the fullness of the truth. We forget that we have been taught something to say and so we fail, and we are reduced to having to say something.

In the today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us something we must do to be part of the community of faith. We must be attentive to our fellow pilgrims, caring about them, helping each other to recognize and seek forgiveness of our sins. This is a responsibility that takes kindness, patience, and imagination. It means that we really must care about people in other aspects of their lives than simply their political opinions or the area of their life about which we have judged them to be in error. Advice is best offered quietly and respectfully among family and friends as members of one Body, the Church.

We have obligations to hear the truth, to know the truth, to tell the truth, to love the truth, to do the truth, and to win others for the truth. We are called not only to win arguments but to win souls. It is not only insufficient but wrong to drop the truth on people like a cinder block on their heads. We are stewards of the truth, not owners of the truth. The truth is not an idea, the truth ultimately is the person of Jesus Christ. Stewardship of the truth is not part of a cancel culture. It is not part of a culture war. It is not a rush to social media. 

We give not only reasons for the truth, but we have a responsibility to reveal the attractiveness of the truth, to make the truth winsome, to win people over to the truth (when we say that something is “winsome” we mean that something is beautiful in moral quality). We reveal the truth to be winsome through persuasion. Persuasio is Latin for “through attractiveness or allure” — the attractiveness or allure of the truth that is revealed through our love and respect for our neighbor anchored in love for God Himself. This underscores the critical importance of civil conversation and the art of rhetoric in political discourse today. If “persuasion” of the winsomeness of the truth is lacking today, we must renew our responsibility through prayer and action as Ezekiel did, by first paying attention not only to the truth but also to our fellow human beings in need of healing.

Think of the important issues that are part of our civil and political life as a nation. How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that human life is sacred and should be protected from conception until natural death? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that the integrity of marriage involves exclusively the commitment between one man and woman to permanence, fidelity, and openness to the conception, birth, and education of children for the common good of our society? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that our gender is a matter of our embodied sexuality and not a matter of the fluidity of political ideology? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that justice requires the right order of the rule of law as protected through the public service of a well-formed police force? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that our laws and their just enforcement require the consciousness that each human being of every race and ethnicity are equal in their creation in the image and likeness of God? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that charity begins at home but does not end there? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that we have both a social and individual obligation to the poor and sick within our society? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that gainful employment is essential for human flourishing? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that a just immigration policy upholds secure borders and respect for family life? It is detrimental to us spiritually if all we do is display the ugliness of sin and the lies of falsity. We are called to manifest fully the winsomeness of the truth in exercising fraternal correction.

Maybe we prefer to ignore difficulties and disagreements with others because we know that we are not perfect, we feel it is not our business, or we just do not care. Yet, this is not what Christ asks of us in today’s Gospel. We prayed today in the Psalm response, “if today you hear His voice harden, not your hearts.” Before we can say this to others, we must pray this for others but only after praying it for ourselves.

If we truly are a community of faith and charity, we have no choice but to help each other understand and change destructive and sinful behavior — our own and others. The care of the Church to serve as a watchman is not just a call given to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops; it is also entrusted to every Catholic. As a call given to us it involves the delicate art of fraternal correction. Jesus counsels an incremental approach to fraternal correction because you do not fraternally correct strangers or non-believers, the tax collectors, or Gentiles of today. Fraternal correction always involves the knowledge of friendship and not simply the familiarity of celebrity. The way that we are friends with and treat one another clearly reveals how we love God in response to His love for us. That way, when we are asked to persuade others of the truth, we will have something to say and not just have to say something.