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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 4, 2013
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:31-21

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus about property rights, and he replies, “Who appointed me your judge and arbitrator?” A news reporter asks Francis, the Bishop of Rome, upon his return from a wildly successful World Youth Day in Brazil, about his position on homosexuality, and he replies, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him?” Their responses are strikingly similar, but rather than this being a homily on gay and lesbian acceptance by the church, I want to focus on the ways Francis is being much like Jesus.

Jesus does not answer the question on property rights, but turns the attention to the inherent greed in many of us and he cautions us not to fall into its trap. Francis also does not answer anything new of our hot button social issues and he cautions us not to be quick in condemning others, but to extend compassion whenever we can. Francis, like Jesus, is staying above the fray and is raising people’s consciousness about our core beliefs and attitudes. Attention is diverted from the conflict so that the real issues that lead to salvation can be addressed. Both of them help others to follow the counsel in Colossians, “Seek what is above. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Francis is helping the church recover its original character. Pagan observers used to say of Christians, “See how they love one another.” We used to be known as people who extended mercy to others – even to those who by rights ought to be our enemies. The central rallying point was belief that the risen Jesus is Lord. Repeatedly, Francis is heard speaking about our need to care for the poor, to provide hospitality to those on the fringes or to those society has ostracized, to be compassionate, and to be kind. Church is not solely about rules and traditions, but about the things that are above, God’s values and attitudes.

Francis is not changing around the church’s belief structures, but is offering a more loving way of being church. He is allowing the Spirit of Vatican II to take hold, and it feels natural for everyone. For decades, it has felt like Rome was systematically trying to inhibit the Council and to “reform the reform.” Each measured step was met with resistance and confusion and many complained about the direction the church was taking, and as Francis embarrassingly points out, many left. Almost overnight, the manner and style by which Francis speaks has emboldened many of the faithful to claim pride in being Catholic, in being Christian. Naturally and with great ease, the church is able to make great strides in how it sees itself and deals with those who do not yet know Christ. Francis communicates that every person is important and needs to be extended mercy and compassion because one is lovable and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. This is a real break from the prior styles and tones of church teachings. Our church can become one that mixes well with the world’s cultures rather than always being combative and defensive.

The Bishop of Rome is comfortable muddying the waters. He wants to shake up our accepted ways of proceeding so that Gospel values can become immersed in them. He wants to break priestly clericalism, he wants bishops to get out of their cathedrals and go to places where potential Christ seekers may be, he wants to treat divorced and remarried Catholics with greater mercy, listen to and be enriched by those whom society places on the fringes, he wants to break down the walls that we and bishops have erected to keep the undesirables out. He emphasizes that forgiveness is the most revealing form of love and that it forgets the sin that divides people. He wants us to serve one another, not because it makes us feel good, but because our loving hearts impel us to do it naturally so that we can eradicate the sinful structures that oppress us. He wants to enact the words of the second reading: to put death to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, idolatrous greed, and malicious lying. He wants, not just the church, but me and you, to be renewed in the image of our Creator. For in this place, though we hail from diverse backgrounds, we are one in Christ. We are Christians and of this, we can be very proud.
            Therefore, set your sights on what is from above. Qoheleth, the preacher in Ecclesiastes asks, “What does it profit a person to toil and labor under the sun while losing one’s soul?” The things of this world are but a breath. “Vanity of vanities,” or in a more perfect translation, “Breath of breaths.” All is breath. Let’s not get overly worked up about today’s social problems, but let us reclaim our heritage that the Second Vatican Council asks us to do. Let us treat everyone we meet with mercy, compassion, tolerance, kindness, and let us forgive, and let us make the words of Jesus and Francis our own, “Who am I to judge you?” Instead let us live in the joy of our Creator because we only have one another for a very short time in this world. We are proudly Christians. We are brother and sister and we want to make a better world for others and ourselves. Beyond that, all else is breath.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In the Book of Numbers, Moses asks God why he was chosen for such a task because the people were starving and in need of meat for food. Manna was not satisfying them and they grumbled daily at Moses. ~ August 6th  is the Transfiguration of the Lord and in Daniel, the Son of Man is seated at the Throne in heaven while all creation pays him homage. ~ Moses and Aaron sent out reconnoitering parties to check out the land that would become Israel. They had positive reports of its bounty, but also negative reports of big, fierce men who would be difficult to overtake. The people grumbled, but Moses relayed to the people this punishment. For forty days, they reconnoitered and they would be punished one year for each day. Therefore, they would remain in the wilderness for 40 years. Miriam died in the desert of Zin and the people took up a council against Moses and Aaron. After prayer, Moses and Aaron went to the rock as they were ordered and struck it to allow water to flow abundantly forth. Moses spoke to the people to declare that God was the one who initiated the mighty works to keep them alive. God is to be obeyed.  

Gospel: When Jesus hears of the death of John the Baptist, he retreats to a quite place to grieve and pray, but the townspeople followed him and brought their sick and dying. He fed them out of compassion. ~ On the Feast of the Transfiguration, Jesus brought Peter, James, and John up the mountain to be witnesses of God’s favor of him as his Beloved Son. ~ Jesus withdrew once again and a Canaanite women petitioned him to heal her sick daughter even though she knew she was not a pure Israelite. She believed in the power and goodness of Jesus to cure her daughter. When he walked to Caesarea Philippi, he asked his friends who others say he is. Then he asked them to personally answer. Peter answer was good enough for all the disciples and Jesus told Peter that he would build his church around him. He then tells them that leadership in this world is about picking up one’s cross and carrying a heavy load for the sake of Christ. Giving up one’s life for others is the ultimate sacrifice. Just as a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, we must let our lives die to ourselves so we can be reborn into the new life of Christ.

Saints of the Week

August 4: John Vianney, priest (1786-1859) became the parish priest in Ars-en-Dombes where he spent the rest of his life preaching and hearing confessions. Hundreds of visitors and pilgrims visited him daily. He would hear confessions 12-16 hours per day.

August 5: Dedication of the Basilica of Mary Major in Rome is celebrated because it is the largest and oldest of the churches in honor of Mary. The veneration began in 435 when the church was repaired after the Council of Ephesus in 431 when Mary was proclaimed the Mother of God. This is the church where Ignatius of Loyola said his first Mass and where Francis of Assisi assembled the first crèche.

August 6: The Transfiguration of the Lord is an historical event captured by the Gospels when Jesus is singled out as God's Son - ranking higher than Moses or Elijah. In front of his disciples, Jesus becomes transfigured, thus revealing his true nature. Ironically, the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb occurred at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

August 7: Sixtus, II, pope and martyr with companions (d. 258), died during the Valerian persecutions in 258. They were killed in the catacombs where they celebrated Mass. Sixtus was beheaded while speaking in his presidential chair and six deacons were killed as well. Lawrence, the Deacon, is honored on August 10th. Sixtus is remembered during the 1st Eucharistic prayer at Mass.

August 7: Cajetan, priest (1480-1547), was a civil and canon lawyer who worked in the papal chancery. He later joined the Roman Order of Divine Love and was ordained a priest. He became aware that the church needed reform and he teamed up with the bishop of Theate (Gian Pietro Carafa) and formed a society of priests called the Theatines who lived in community and took monastic vows. They owned no property.

August 8: Dominic, priest (1170-1221), was a Spaniard who was sent to southern France to counter the heretical teachings of the Albigensians, who held that the material world was evil and only religious asceticism could combat those forces. Dominic begged and preached in an austere fashion and set the foundations for the new Order of Preachers for both men and women.

August 8: Mother Mary MacKillop, religious (1842-1909), who worked in Australia and New Zealand to assist the poor, needy, and immigrants to the country, was canonized on October 17th 2010. August 8th is chosen as the day in which she will be memorialized on the Roman calendar. I offer the following prayer:

Bountiful and loving God,
You have filled the heart of Mary MacKillop
with compassionate love for those
who are in need at the margins of our society.
Deepen that love within us
that we may embrace the mystery of the Cross
which leads us through death to life.
We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus
who having broken the bonds of death
leads us to everlasting life. Amen.

August 9: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr (1891-1942), became a Catholic convert from Judaism after reading the autobiography of Teresa of Avila. He earned a doctorate in philosophy, but was unemployable because she was a woman. She taught at a high school for eight years before entering the Carmelites in 1933 where she made final vows in 1938. She moved to Holland to escape persecution by the Nazis, but was arrested when the bishops spoke out against the persecution of the Jews.

August 10: Lawrence, deacon and martyr (d. 258) was martyred four days after Pope Sixtus II and six other deacons during the Valerian persecution. A beautiful story is told about Lawrence's words. When asked to surrender the church's treasure, Lawrence gathered the poor and presented them to the civil authorities. For this affront, he was martyred. He is the patron of Rome.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Aug 4, 1871. King Victor Emmanuel signed the decree that sanctioned the seizure of all of the properties belonging to the Roman College and to S. Andrea.
·      Aug 5, 1762. The Parliament at Paris condemned the Society's Institute as opposed to natural law. It confiscated all Jesuit property and forbade the Jesuit habit and community life.
·      Aug 6, 1552. The death of Claude Jay, a French priest who was one of Ignatius' original companions at the University of Paris.
·      Aug 7, 1814. The universal restoration of the Society of Jesus.
·      Aug 8, 1604. St Peter Claver takes his first vows at Tarracona.
·      Aug 9, 1762. The moving of the English College from St Omers to Liege.
Aug 10, 1622. Blessed Augustine Ota, a Japanese brother, was beheaded for the faith. He had been baptized by Blessed Camillus Costanzi on the eve of the latter's martyrdom. 


  1. Thank you for this homily which gives us confidence in the future as we can see the hand of God working through Pope Francis.

    1. Thank you, Lynda. My the Lord bless Francis abundantly as he pastors the church.