30th S. 2020: Be Compassionate

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 25, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

On Wednesday, I told the CCD kids about my next door neighbor who told her son, “Tell the truth, God is watching!” Today’s message is one of living the truth…because God is watching! The Jewish teacher, Hillel, who may have still been alive when Jesus was born wrote, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah.” It reminds me of Romans 13:10, “Love does no evil to thy neighbor; hence, to love is to fulfill the law.”

That’s what Moses, tells the Israelites today. He says, “Hey, don’t give the immigrants a hard time–you were an immigrant once too! Don’t take that person’s cloak, their shoes, their blanket–it’s all they’ve got! Give the widows and orphans, foster and homeless youth, single mothers, the poor, the elderly, and others on the edge, a break! Their life is hard enough! 

It makes me sick to hear about those who harass and harm runaways and homeless. Their life is fragile and broken enough. And the unborn babies thrown away as though they were garbage–it’s disgusting, and all of it must stop. My brothers and sisters, our culture is sick. We’re losing our love and our decency, and God is watching. Our selfishness, greed, and vanity turns us away from others and has us looking only at ourselves. Moses says, if you wrong them, God is going to hear about it, and God is going to be heated. God says, “My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with a sword!” Yikes! I think we better pay close attention to how much God loves the most vulnerable and decide whether we’re a friend of God or not. We need to decide whose side we’re on–choose God’s.

As we look through the propositions on the ballot we ask ourselves, what lasting effect will this have on the most vulnerable, on the environment? Does this policy help those with wealth get more wealthy, or does it strip away the only cloak that a man has? We must appreciate that our public policy is either aligned with God’s kingdom or is at odds with it, and we have an opportunity in this country to vote and pass laws that make our country and world a better place for everyone–not just the fortunate few. 

I think we need to seriously question our own view, but also the attitudes or view of the company we keep, and especially about those who lead our country. Whose side are they on? Are they on God’s side? When we sit down at our table and vote we should write down the Great Commandment on a sticky note: Love God with all my heart. Love my neighbor as myself. Jesus tells us that “On these commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.” All laws boil down to just one: Love. Period.

I think the key is found in the last line of the first reading, “If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.” Compassion is defined as, “feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others.” But it’s much deeper than that. The root word of compassion is “passion,” and passion comes from the latin root “pati” which means “to suffer.” The passion of Christ is about Jesus’ love and willingness to suffer for us. The prefix “com” means “with.” You know, like when Portuguese people have pão com manteiga. So to have com-passion is to suffer with another.

The compassionate person doesn’t just see another in pain, he actually enters into that pain. He shares that pain. And because he shares their pain, he is moved to do something about it! If I see someone step on your toe, I might say, “Oooh! Too bad for you.” But if someone steps on my toe, I move it! Moses tells the people on behalf of God, if your neighbor cries out to me, I will hear him!” Because God is compassionate, God suffers with him. And God does something about it…remember that whole “sword thing.” God is not indifferent. God cares about how his people treat others.

When Catholics vote we want to focus on the love of God, the people that God loves, and the policies that affect them. Jesus loves the world and all who are in it. He gave his life for every soul…every soul. Those outside the womb and those still in it, the free and the brave, as well as the incarcerated and the timid. Jesus suffered and died out of love for the homeless, the hopelessly addicted, the single mother, and the family that has it all together and says their prayers every night. Jesus died for them all, and we’re called to create a just society for them all. When we talk about loving our neighbor we must be mindful of St. Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we just celebrated this past Thursday, he said, “Love wills the good of another.”

If we love our neighbor we desire what is good for him. If we love our neighbor, we cannot be indifferent to his suffering. If we have a choice about which policies to pass, we vote for those propositions that do the most good for the most vulnerable. And when we vote for people who pass laws, we must vote for those who are on the side of Love.

I once heard that I should insert my name into 1COR 13 to see if it’s true of me, “Steve is patient, Steve is kind.” I think it would be a good practice to put the presidential candidates in there as well, and see if it’s true. “____ is patient, ____ is kind, ____ is not jealous, ____ is not pompous, ____ is not inflated, ____ is not rude, ____ does not seek his own interests, ____ is not quick-tempered, ____ does not brood over injury, ____ does not rejoice over wrongdoing, ____ rejoices with the truth.”

There are no perfect policies, politicians, or parties, but there are better policies, better politicians, and parties that better reflect the will and love of God. Choose those so that His kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

“We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern.” – Pope Francis, 9/16/13

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

29th S. 2020: To Caesar and To God

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 18, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

St. Basil the great said, “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God would not be violated.” I often hear that the Church should stay out of politics…but as we begin today I want to remind you that “the Church” is not a building, but a people, and we are those people: 1. Christian 2. Citizens–both–one and the same, advancing God’s kingdom, ensuring that “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s no wonder St. Thomas would say, “Human government is derived from the divine government and should imitate it.”

As ballots pour in, as signs go up, and parades roll out, our Church invites us to consider Jesus’ approach to politics. Jesus tells the Pharisees and the Herodians, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what it Gods.” With respect, many Christians and non-Christians alike, might wrongfully conclude that what Jesus is arguing for here is a separation of Church and State. Of course, there was no such thing in Jesus’ day, and it would not exist for centuries.

The invocation of the separation of Church and state has as its goal the removal of God from politics entirely. The removal of God from public life entirely. The removal of God from our schools, our public squares, and our places of business. There are those who would like to see God and religion reduced to the shadows. But what then is left? Only practical atheism in our schools, in the marketplace of ideas, and in our businesses. God is truth. God is love. God is justice. God is mercy!

How convenient–a country with no room for God! A country with no truth, no love, no justice, and no mercy! Where only those who have no religious conviction are allowed to share their opinion. Where only those whose view has no God as it’s source can speak. Where lawmakers have to somehow check their religious views and values at the door. Where leaders are supposed to make decisions that are not informed by virtue, and holiness, goodness, and eternal truths. This is madness, and it’s wrong.

This IS NOT a country that I want to live in. It is NOT the country that I fought for, and it is not the country that our forefathers founded. Our country declared its independence with the words, “that all men are created equal, that are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We declared independence because the rights that God gives his children were being trampled upon! That’s God and politics right there! 

The First Commandment is to love the Lord your God. The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses there – congress will not establish a religion, and congress will protect our right to freely exercise our religion…as a citizen! We are not expected to check your faith at the door in this country. Our founders didn’t and didn’t expect us to either! 

This is what Jesus means when he says to render to both caesar and God. We, body and soul, live out our Christian life in this world. All authority, in heaven and on earth comes from God. And to the degree that earthly government is aligned with that of heaven, as St. Basil says, we must be obedient, because our obedience is to the good, wherever it is found. 

Jesus said pay the tax, for crying out loud! The coin, the denarius, paid the census tax. It was a day’s wage for every man, woman, and slave age 12-65. That tax paid for the privilege of enjoying the benefits and security of living in one of the greatest empires the world had ever known. A small price to be sure. Hey, pay the tax already! 

And make sure that the government who spends that tax spends it in a way that honors and glorifies God – with a concern for the rights and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. That recognizes the needs of families and their right to participate in community life. For an awareness that people have basic rights and that governments have a responsibility to respect them. That in policies, we must be mindful of the poorest among us, the dignity of work, and the rights of workers. We need government that believes in one human family and seeks unity among people on the streets, in the nation, and among nations, and that embraces the truth that we are stewards of God’s creation and have a responsibility to protect it, sustain it, and ensure clear air, clean water, and a healthy climate for future generations. 

I want to cringe every time I hear, “Well, I wouldn’t do that, but I can’t impose my view on others.” or “I think that’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s right to tell other people what to do.” Yes we can impose our view! We can tell other people they’re wrong! And should! Every law that has ever been passed is because something was wrong and people don’t want other people to do it! Traffic laws, criminal law, social law–all of it is passed because someone thought it was wrong and that no one should do it. “I mean, I wouldn’t drink and drive, but I can’t say that others shouldn’t do it.” “I wouldn’t kill someone, but who am I to impose my religious view on others.” We can. We should. We must. Make no mistake, someone’s views and values will be imposed. Laws will be passed. Either by God’s people or by those who claim no God.

The role of the Church is not to tell us what to do, it’s to remind us of who we are. What we believe. And that we must courageously act on that belief in every part of our life – to Caesar and to God.

28th S. 2020: Where’s Your Garment?

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 11, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

Last week I encouraged each of us to appreciate and even love both this country and this church, and today the Gospel calls us to consider the quality of that love for God. Each of us has indeed been loved by God and has been invited to the great banquet of the Lamb, but showing up to the feast is not enough, God wants us properly dressed.

There is quite a confusing end to the parable that Jesus tells us today. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a King who throws an amazing feast! You can just imagine the expense, right? Food for days, goblets, and candles, wine, paintings, chandeliers, and every sort earthly delight. Few people in Jesus’ day, and even in on our own, will ever witness such beauty, decadence and pageantry. Probably as close as any of us will get is to watch a royal wedding on t.v.–something like when I was a boy watching the beautiful Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Called “the wedding of the century” the glamorous ceremony was attended by 3,500 guests and watched on television by 750 million people. 

In today’s Gospel, although the king had made all the preparations, his invited guests refused the invitation outright, others went to work, and others laid hold of the messengers and killed them. Jesus’ audience would have known immediately who Jesus was referring to. How uncomfortable to be among the chief priests and the elders of the people as Jesus told the story, knowing that he was accusing them of refusing God’s invitation of life and love, of celebration and the joy that God promises to all who enter his Kingdom. Worse still that not only did they refuse the invitation, they even killed the messengers–the prophets of God that told the people of God’s generosity and inclusivity, but warned them also of God’s demands.

And because God’s people refused the invitation, the great King said, “My banquet hall will be filled!” The King opens wide the doors to the hall, “Go out into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find,” the King commands. The servants went out and gathered all they found, the bad and the good alike…and the hall was filled. 

Those roughians, those on the streets, “the bad and the good alike,” well that, of course, is us. We who are not Jews and the natural heirs to the wedding feast of the Lamb, but we are among those who have been invited anyway. We are the gentiles, the unclean who have been invited by Jesus, but who by the blood of the lamb and through the waters of baptism, have been made clean, been made pure…white as wool. 

I think sometimes we forget that we had no claim on God and God’s kingdom, had no ticket to the wedding feast at all, but because of God’s generosity and inclusivity, we enjoy the Kingdom even now on earth, and in its fullness when we pass on. I think sometimes we are quick to celebrate God’s love for us, God’s generosity toward us, but like spoiled children, are slow to rise to the demands that his relationship has on us. And for the spiritually lazy, for those who remain luke-warm, for those who have a sense of entitlement among us, today’s Gospel has a clear warning–you can be thrown out, just as quickly as you were invited in. 

The king sees a man not dressed in the king’s wedding garment, and was without excuse. Standing before the king, enjoying choice food and choice wine, he hadn’t even made the smallest preparations to attend the feast, and upon arrival, he did not dress the part. Many of us might find the King’s actions harsh. The king is the one, after all, that opened the doors and invited those along the roadways, in the fields, the good and the bad alike, right? That’s true, he did. But the King did NOT say, show up just as you are, make no preparations, do your own thing, I expect nothing in return. The man was selfish, enjoyed the king’s generosity, and gave nothing in return–not even so much as to wear the king’s garment. The man was bound hand and foot and thrown out into darkness. “Many are invited, few are chosen,” Jesus says.

What exactly was this wedding garment that the man refused to put on once invited to the king’s banquet? We find a clue in the Book of Revelation. There, the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ, and the unity of Jesus and the Church for eternity, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In Revelation 19, after the great battle between Jesus and the beast of the Apocalypse, when Babylon falls, and God’s reign is fully realized, the wedding begins. In verse seven, “For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)” The man was thrown out because he was invited, but did not clothe himself properly.

And there’s the warning for us. We have been invited to the most glorious Wedding the universe has ever known. No expense was spared. God’s own son is wed to his bride, the Church, and everyone of the guests must put on the wedding garment or be thrown out. And the garment is our righteous deeds, our actions, the quality with which we live our life toward others. Our “righteous deeds” manifest themselves in acts of mercy, kindness, generosity, and service. Our “garment” is speaking well of others, refusing to gossip, sticking up for the unpopular at school, being respectful of our parents and authority and caring for others. This is our garment. If we were to stand before the king today, will he find us wearing ours or will we be reduced to silence and thrown out?