Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Carver/Plympton, MA

Homilies

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 12, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Wisdom 6:12-16

Psalm 63:2-8

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

            Only recently I had to inform a person that someone he loves had died.  This is an infrequent thing.  But as an Army chaplain I often had to tell a soldier, continents away from family, of something tragic that had happened at home.  The youngest police officer often is the one sent to notify a family of a death; he or she may invite a priest as a companion for this difficult assignment.  (There’s no need to tell you that finding a patrolman and a priest at your door at 2:00 a.m. is never good news.) 

Every time I was involved in such missions, I could tell within a few moments whether there was faith in this soldier’s life or in this household.  The shock and disbelief were universal, of course, but within a few minutes the reaction began to tell a story.  Where there was little faith, only despair followed the news.  Where faith had prepared a family, other things began to happen:  the bonding of family members, questions about the well-being of others involved, prayer, and concern for me as messenger.

            As we approach the ending of the Church’s year, we are invited to reflect on the end of our days.  Today we’ve heard of the wise and foolish virgins.  Next weekend Saint Paul will warn us to “stay alert and sober.”  And the following week we will hear Jesus’ parable about the King separating the sheep from the goats at the Last Judgment, the goats going “to eternal punishment” and the sheep “to eternal life.”

            The end of our days on earth is not a comfortable subject.  Woody Allen the (esoteric) film maker joked, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work.  I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” [1]  And the Catholic author Somerset Maugham had one of his literary characters speak this warning: “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” [2]

Jesus compared the “kingdom of heaven” to the situation of bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom.  The groom was delayed, but on the way.  Is one careful to be ready?  The foolish virgins lived in the moment, which may seem to us very modern, or even Zen-like.  They cared not to consider the next moment.  The wise virgins were more circumspect; they brought along extra lamp oil.  The possibility of the bridegroom’s tardiness was too “dull and dreary” to consider, so the foolish virgins had “nothing whatsoever to do with” preparing themselves.  The wise virgins chose to prepare, and they entered the wedding feast with the bridegroom, while the foolish went off to find oil, only to be barred from entering upon their return.

Now, Christians are not people who dote on death.  We are not to be dour and dreary people.  However, if the return of Jesus at the end of time or at the end of our own, individual days seems so far off that these endings never enter our consciousness, we are avoiding the ultimate reality in life.  We, like the foolish virgins, surrender to denial.

Thomas Merton observed, “If death comes to us as an unwelcome stranger, it will be because Jesus also has always been an unwelcome stranger.” [3] Blindness to the arrival of Jesus at the last moment of our earthly life suggests that we were never aware of his arrival in all the other ways he has entered our life, gracing us in great moments and small.  We may have been slow to recognize Christ in the people he sent our way for us to serve their needs or to assist us on our pilgrim way.  We may have been deaf to Jesus in our prayer, and in scripture.  We may have been mute in our glorifying God’s name and speaking to others his good news. 

If small, subtle entrances of Jesus into our lives went unrecognized, then the arrival of Jesus on the day of our death presents only fear.  Who wants to live in fear?  So we try to deny death’s reality.  But the truth is that rather than freeing us, “The fear of death keeps us from living, not from dying.” [4] Death remains before us.

Saint Paul encouraged we who encounter the “falling asleep” of friends not to “grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”  Paul is not suggesting grief is bad or inappropriate, but that believers grieve while still abiding in hope.  “The Christian ultimately has hope in the loving power and presence of the Lord who promises to be with us until the end of time and whose love is so strong that it can overcome all obstacles, even death itself.” [5]  This kind of hope will not miraculously appear at our moment of loss or when we face our own mortality.  Our hope derives from an on-going relationship with Jesus Christ, in the small losses and all the joys of our life.  Our hope derives from our trust in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.  Our hope derives from our response to God through the ways we have chosen to live.  But fundamentally, our hope derives from Christ’s attitude toward us.

A priest, writing about his own mother’s death, shared this about Christ’s attitude toward his mother and us:  “She bore witness to the reality that Jesus never experiences us as dead.  We can only live in him and with him.  She did not die; she simply entered his life.” [6] 

What a hopeful reality:  Jesus never experiences us as dead!  We are not dead to him when we sin.  He comes to heal and forgive, offering his blood for our forgiveness.  We are not dead to him when in trouble.  He is the shepherd who searches for the single, lost sheep. [7]  And we are not dead to him when our earthly days end.  He promised, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” [8]

So, get your lamps ready.  Store up your oil.  Greet the Lord’s arrival in our lives in the countless ways that pre-figure Christ’s ultimate arrival.  Live the Catholic faith that has been handed down to us from the Apostles.  Read scripture; pray; encounter Christ in the sacraments; love our neighbor and be of service to the needy.  This is the wise way to live.  This is the way to live a prepared life.  And as encouragement, I leave you with the insight of one heroic Catholic who died for his faith because he trusted mightily that Jesus would never experience him as dead.  Saint Thomas More said, “No one on his deathbed ever regretted having been a Catholic.” [9]

[1]  Woody Allen, quoted by Eric Lax in On Being Funny:  Woody Allen and Comedy (New York: David McKay Co., 1975).

[2]  Somerset Maugham, as quoted in Reader's Digest.

[3]  Thomas Merton, as quoted in Good News (homily service), June, 1989.

[4]  Paul C. Roud, Making Miracles (New York: Time-Warner Books, 1990).

[5]  Charles E. Curran, “The Relationship of Moral Theology to Other Theological Disciplines,” New Catholic World, Vol. 226, no. 1351 (January/February, 1983), p. 9.

[6]  Edward J. Farrell, Gathering the Fragments (Notre Dame, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1987), p. 86.

[7]  Luke 15:14.

[8]  John 14:6.

[9] St. Thomas More, quoted by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005), p. 228.

 

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10

Psalm 131:1-3

1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13

Matthew 23:1-12

            Sometimes the scriptures offer great comfort; at other times they disturb.  For example, especially since I met so many of them while I was overseas, I wonder about Egyptian Christians.  Despite persecution in their homeland these days, they remain loyal to the faith.  But in scripture we only hear their ancestors identified with evil and slavery.  Surely, it’s uncomfortable for a divorced person to hear Jesus’ strictures against divorce. [i]  Do the wealthy feel unsettled when they hear scriptural condemnations of the rich?  Malachi’s blistering criticism of the priesthood is unsettling to me.

            Of course, Malachi’s was a criticism of the fifth century BC Jewish priesthood.  It seems the priests of the rebuilt Temple following the Babylonian Exile were taking advantage of their position.  They took for themselves the best of the animals offered by the people for sacrifice and offered to God on the altar inferior animals or they kept the choicest roasted portions for their own meals.  Malachi prophesied they had not placed God’s commandments on their heart.

Unfortunately his critique may resonate with today’s Catholic priesthood.  The prophetic message is similar: “You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction….”  We know that most priests are good men, trying to respond to the call of God.  However, the trappings and privileges of priesthood, even for good priests, sometimes become obstacles to their mission of leading others to the God whom the priests have come to know.

And priests – Jewish or Catholic – are not Malachi’s only target.  The last two verses from Malachi are actually not part of his critique of priests.  Malachi criticized all kinds of people.  Malachi asks, “Why … do we break faith with one another?”  This segues into the situation of the laity. 

For example Jesus criticized the Pharisees, who were not Jewish priests, but a group of laymen, a sort-of “Voice of the Faithful” of their day:  the self-appointed religious purists who, as Jesus accurately pointed out, knew well the laws of God.  However, they were so intent on religious purity in others that they became lax themselves, as leadership often does.  The Pharisees assumed the trappings of leadership – the honors and titles.  And they fell for the lie:  The rules apply to others, not to us.  We see this in politicians, don’t we?  We are scolded by some Hollywood elites about the environmental issues or about respecting women – all very right and important – but notoriously their own behavior exposes their hypocrisy.  Jesus warned, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”

Like children dressed up for Hallowe’en as monsters or princesses, the ancient Jewish priesthood put on religious garb and ritual, but had forgotten that the essence of priesthood is service.  The costumes of service – the turned-around collar, the title of “Father,” or “Rabbi” – are visible.  But in too many instances these are covers for self-serving rather than their serving others.

The Pharisees of yore and the self-righteous of today also put on costumes of sanctity.  These folks may exhibit involvement in Church and worship, but sometimes there is little sense that religious faith, as expected of a disciple of Jesus, is a matter of deep, personal conversion and intimately connected to service of one’s neighbor. 

The Church has conjoined this selection from Malachi to today’s gospel of Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees to remind not just priests, but all of us, that disciples of Jesus are not to be ostentatious do-gooders or attention-grabbers at public functions, wearing a costume of piety that is easily put on, but just as easily falls away.  Rather, disciples of Jesus – whether clergy or laity – are to be humble servants of others.

Although, as a friend of mine used to say, “Self-praise is no praise,” we look to Saint Paul in his letter today.  He described his own discipleship.  And we trust that he was honest in his self-appraisal by the fact that his life did, in fact, influence the Mediterranean world, introducing lasting faith into many parts of it.  With affection for his listeners, Paul shared not only the gospel story with them, but he shared himself.  He did not wear the costume of religious superiority, but rather worked like the townsfolk – in his case as a tent-maker.  Paul described his ministry:  “Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”  And so the people received “the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”

I was told when I was learning how to ski, “If you don’t fall down a lot, you’re not doing it right.”  It’s not easy being a disciple of Jesus.  If you think it is, you’re not doing it right.  Faith is a sincere conviction that we are loved by God and we want to love God in response.  But as Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “The most exhausting thing in life is being sincere.” [ii]  We disciples commit to walking with Jesus with regard to leadership, and piety, and personal integrity, and compassionate caring for others.  If we stumble from time to time along the way, we remember that we are still loved.  And we get up and try all over again to be genuine disciples of Christ.

[i]  Coincidentally, further on in Malachi’s prophecy it says:  “For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2:16).

[ii]  Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea (Pantheon). 

 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Exodus 22:20-26

Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51

1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10

Matthew 22:34-40

            Set your priorities.  This is what I hear the Lord saying to us today:  Set your priorities.  A university president addressed the new freshmen.  He said, “If you want to survive and succeed during your college years, consider this:  ‘Friends, grades, sleep.  Choose two.  You won’t have time for all three.’” [1]  Friends, grades, sleep.  Choose two.  Set your priorities.

            Over the last several weekends we’ve explored a series of episodes in Matthew’s gospel that are about priorities.  We’ve heard the parable of a vineyard owner’s son who refused his father’s order to tend to the vineyard, but then relented and performed the required work, while a second son seemed obedient, but ended up blowing off his father’s orders.  Which of them did his father’s will? [2]  About God’s will, set your priorities. 

            We heard a parable on a subsequent weekend about some “beautiful people” called to a king’s wedding feast, but they ignored, mistreated or even killed the messengers inviting them, choosing instead to tend to their own farms or to conduct their own businesses.  So the king destroyed their farms and cities and invited all the “little people” instead.  These folks – good and bad alike – made the king’s feast their priority. [3]  God invites you; set your priorities. 

            Just last weekend we heard Jesus foil the plotting of Pharisees who sought to expose Jesus to jeopardy either by his refusal to pay Rome’s census tax or to shame him for collaborating with foreigners who were occupying Jerusalem.  And Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” [4]  Governments come and go and have their place, but always worship your God.  Set your priorities. 

            Some of our religion students find it hard to memorize the Ten Commandments.  I tell them, just remember the one’s you’ve broken… that should get you to around seven!  Ten?  The Jews in biblical times had identified 613 commandments.  The Pharisees genuinely tried to identify the important commandments for everyday people.  This motivated the Pharisees’ arguments about which are the “really important” ones.  We hear one of these “scholars of the law” enlist Jesus’ opinion in that never-ending task of deciding which is the greatest.  Jesus obliged.  Quoting Deuteronomy, [5] Jesus said the priority is to love God with one’s whole heart, mind and soul.  But the second is like it, from Leviticus 19:18, one must love the neighbor as oneself.  The other 611 commandments are not done away with.  Rather, all the commandments – the whole Torah and the prophets, the whole of Hebrew scripture – are summed up in this two-part command:  love God fully; love neighbor unselfishly.  Set your priorities.

            The Church helps us apply these priorities by offering up for us today Exodus 22.  The way in which you treat the most vulnerable must match how your loved ones should be treated.  Widows and orphans in a male dominated society had no one to speak for them or to act legally on their behalf.  The aliens living among a tribal culture had no tribal or kinship ties.  These are the most vulnerable people.  The poor and the powerless are to be respected and protected, because they are created by, and loved by, God.  Set your priority on caring for these. 

            The treatment of a neighbor – especially the weakest – is the sign of one’s relationship with God.  This is reflected throughout scripture.  Think of King David, who, when he sinned against Bathsheba through his lust, or especially when he sinned against her husband Uriah by sending him into battle unprotected, David ultimately repented realizing that by doing these things to this sister and this brother he had actually sinned against God.  He confessed, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” [6]  Any malice against the neighbor is a rejection of God.  [7]  When relating to people, set your priorities.

            Isn’t this what Jesus taught in his parable of the prodigal son?  When the younger son returned, impoverished, after squandering his whole inheritance in riotous living, he said to his father, “I have sinned against God and against you.” [8]  There is no distinction; it’s not either / or.  When the boy offended his father, he also offended God.  So, set your priorities.

            Jesus proposed what has come to be known as the Great Commandment:  Love God wholeheartedly and love neighbor unselfishly – as much as one can love himself.  And do not be disheartened by focusing on how one may offend God by offending a neighbor.  Instead, rejoice in the opportunity to love God by loving a neighbor.  Set your priorities.

[1]  Celebration (homily service), July 23, 2006, p. 4.

[2]  26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[3]  28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[4]  29th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[5]  Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

[6]  2 Samuel 12:13

[7]  Timothy E. O’Connell, Principles for a Catholic Morality (New York:  Seabury Press, 1978), pp. 68-69.

[8]  Luke 15:21.