Wednesday, October 31, 2007

30th Sunday Ordinary Time

30th Sunday Ordinary Time
October 30, 2007

Sirach 35:12-14,16-18
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s gospel we get one of the more famous of Jesus’ quotes:

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
And the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

People like to use this quote either to point out somebody’s humble nature or to point out some haughty person’s future fall. Maybe not a bad way of using this quote but perhaps Jesus has a little more in mind for us when he gives this instruction.

Consider the context. This instruction comes just after his teaching on perseverance in prayer – we heard that last week, and just prior to his receiving and blessing the little children – and asking his disciples to become like them.

So prayer and humility are linked in a vital way in the scriptures for us.

Consider the two characters in today’s parable. The Pharisee entered the temple and began to pray, telling God all about personal virtues and then being grateful that he is not like all those other bad people. Jesus called the Pharisees arrogant hypocrites. In this case, unable to admit their sin and their need for God.

The second character is the tax collector who came to the temple to pray. But he came as a penitent. He asked God for forgiveness and mercy because of his sins. And Jesus says that this was the person who went home justified in the eyes of God.

It reveals an attitude that Jesus asks of all of his disciples. To have a heart that is humble and contrite.

That means having a realistic sense of our own condition and the humility to acknowledge our utter dependence on the grace of God.
We are sinners. Go ahead and admit it. We are all sinners. We need God to save us. And there is no other way.
So what can we do to cultivate a heart that is humble and contrite?

I have two practices in our Christian tradition that I think will help us all on our road to conversion

The first practice is fasting.
The gospels, the new testament, and the old testament all clearly teach that there are times when believers should fast. And as Catholics we used to have a pretty good tradition of fasting but in the past 40 years or so we’ve abandoned it in a big way. We need to reclaim this important devotion. Jesus fasted. The apostles fasted. And we also should practice fasting. Why?
A couple of reasons. The first reason is simply because God asks it of us through the teachings of the bible and the teachings of the church. So for no other reason than simple obedience it is good for us to fast. But it is good to know what we get out of it. And that brings us to a second reason for fasting. Fasting brings us self discipline. We can say to our bodies every so often that we live not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So it follows that a third reason to fast is that it brings us freedom. It makes us free from our bad habits and our sins through our little sacrifice offered in faith. A spiritual exchange takes place when we fast. A new clarity comes to us through fasting.

And when to fast? The Church asks Catholics to fast at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion, except in the case of small children or those who are ill. The Church also asks Catholics to fast during Lent in a special way leading us to Easter. Many of you here recall when all Catholics refrained from eating meat on Fridays. You know, the Church never officially said that we should no longer fast after Vatican II. We just kind of stopped doing it. But where have we gone morally in the past 40 years in this country? Perhaps it is time to fast.

Let me suggest this to the Church. Let’s reclaim Friday as a day of fasting, in preparation for the mass on Sunday. A very good way to fast on Fridays is to eat only simple bread and drink only water or other simple drinks.

Fasting will help you to cultivate a heart that is humble and contrite.

The second practice in our Christian tradition is the Sacrament of Penence.
This is another practice that many of us have chucked since Vatican II. Prior to then, the lines were long each Saturday to receive the sacrament. Admittedly, many people approached the sacrament out of habit or out of fear. So when people learned that they didn’t have to go out of pious habit or out of fear, then they simply stopped. But again, what has happened to the moral compass of this nation, and of the Catholic Church in the past 40 years? In many ways Catholics have become indistinguishable from the hedonistic culture all around us. What goes in the culture seems to go the same in our parishes. And that ought not be. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But our salt has become flat and our light has been hidden. Many Catholics have been years without going to confession. And I say with certainty that there is not one single person here in this parish who would not benefit from monthly confession. Not you, not me.

It takes lots of humility to approach the sacrament of penance. We have to admit our faults to a priest who knows us.
But what do we get out of the sacrament of penance? Why go?
We go to declare our faith in Jesus who is faithful to wash us from our sins. We go to receive sanctifying grace and mercy. We go so that Jesus can convert our hearts. We go so that Jesus can make of us saints in his kingdom.

So today you receive two more steps on your road to conversion. Fasting and Confession. Practice them, and you will find justification with God. You will find humility. And God will exalt you.

29th Sunday Ordinary Time

29th Sunday Ordinary Time
October 21, 2007

Jesus asks a compelling question in Luke 18:8. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

This is one of those challenging questions that each of us needs to consider very seriously. This has implications for us personally, as a parish, as well as us as a people in our nation.

In pondering the question, what, do you say, is the verdict at this time? Jesus came to establish a Church filled with saints who would be victorious over sin and death through conversion of heart. And so we have to ask ourselves. Are we saints? Are we deeply engaged in the process of conversion? Or do we live more like Christian pagans, hardly distinct at all from the non-Christian culture that is present all around us?

We’ve got to be aware of this question because Jesus asks us both as a people as well as individuals – will he find faith in us when he comes?

For he comes.
He comes today in sacrament to strengthen us in holiness. We gather at mass to be fed by the bread of life. And he who is the bread of life asks us to examine ourselves carefully and be reconciled with one another and with God prior to approaching the altar. But how many of us have approached this altar lackadaisically time and time again without being reconciled? How many of us have gone years and years without the sacrament of confession? How often do we fail to attend to our conversion?

He comes.
He comes at the end of our lives, when the temple that is our body is destroyed in death. And when that time comes will our lives give testimony to faith in him? Will we have been converted or not? Scripture teaches quite clearly that Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell are all very real destinations at the end of our lives? Our judgement will be based on our choosing conversion through faith in Jesus Christ. Or not.

He comes.
He comes at the end of the ages to pour judgment upon the earth. To gather his elect into the eternal kingdom. To sentence the devil and all his followers into the eternal fire. Every day we live is a day closer to this final date with destiny.

He comes, and what he asks of us is to have the faith that leads to conversion.

So be converted. We all need this message. Be converted. We are not yet holy enough. We are not yet converted enough. We are still too much of this world and not nearly enough of the kingdom of God. Be converted.

Yes. Conversion can sometimes seem to be very difficult. But the scripture gives us some very basic things we can do to speed ourselves along in our conversion. And if we are persistent in these little steps of conversion, then God will make of us the saints he intends for us to be.

Here are two little steps from today’s scriptures to help us on our road to conversion.

Pray. As simple as this is, often enough we get very lazy about our prayers and forget to do them on a daily basis. Or we get into a rote recitation that has no heart to it. Pray every day. Morning and night. Pray without becoming weary. Use the tools for prayer that the church gives us. Daily mass. The Rosary. Lectio Divina. Litanies and songs. Meditation and reflection. Quiet conversation with God. Eucharistic Adoration. Need I go on? We have many tools for prayer. Persevere in prayer according to Jesus’ instruction. Pray, and get closer to Jesus. Pray with the help of the saints in heaven and with the Church on earth. Pray always without becoming weary. Pray.

Read the bible. The bible contains everything we need for our salvation. But often enough the bible becomes a dusty book on the coffee table or a forgotten item on the shelf. Take it out and read it. St. Paul in 2nd Timothy tells us that sacred scripture gives us wisdom for salvation through faith in Jesus. The bible is necessary. Take it up and read a little bit every day. Ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration prior to reading and then you will always receive a little message to help you in your conversion. Read the bible and, as St. Paul says, you will find it useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that you who belong to God may be competent and equipped for every good work. Do you want to be equipped for every good work? Read your bible. Every day. Read your bible.

Do these things. Do them faithfully and persistently. And God will make of you a saint in his kingdom. Your light will shine brightly in a darkened world. And when he comes he will indeed find the faith that he himself gave to you when you opened the door of your heart through prayer and through his holy word.

I close using the words of St. Paul as a benediction, with a little adaptation, regarding these two little steps.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power:
Pray always without becoming weary. Let the Church say amen.
Read sacred scripture every day. Let the Church say amen.
Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient. And be convinced and encouraged, through all patience and teaching. Let the Church say amen.
May almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.