8 September 201923 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
23 Ordinary Time
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

People get enjoyment from auctions. For example, in my hometown of New York City, a Modigilani and a Picasso were sold at the posh Fifth Avenue Christie's auction house in 1998. The Picasso picture went for a whopping seventeen million dollars. The Modigliani canvas fetched twelve million. In the same batch, there were a Renoir and Van Gogh. I leave to your rich imagination what money those paintings commanded.

Imagine what a price Christie's would have commanded for an original letter, however brief, from Jesus sent to a man requesting, say, a favor. The price would of course have broken right through the top of Christie's financial thermometer. It would have been the World Series of auctions. Just imagine the media hype - TV cameras, journalists, etc!

Unfortunately we do not have such a letter, but we have the next best thing. The Church possesses a short letter from one of the Teacher's most distinguished followers, Paul. It is penned to one Philemon seeking a favor. Seven of its twenty five verses constitutes today's second reading.

This epistle has a particular charm lacked by St Paul's other letters. In the latter, he sketched the beliefs of the early Church. A good part of these messages, as a puzzled St Peter confesses, make for difficult reading. But his letter from Rome to Philemon has him on his knees pleading that he give tender loving care to Onesimus, his runaway slave, on his return.

Philemon made his home in Colossae in Asia Minor. Apparently he was wealthy enough to buy the Picassos or Modigilanis of his day. Clearly Philemon owned slaves. But unhappily so did all or, perhaps better, most of the even relatively affluent people of his day. The well-known line that "Rome was built on seven hills and on the backs of seven million slaves" sums up the inhuman situation.

A slave was considered a non-person much as a child in the womb is regarded as such in the United States by law. What abortion is today to much of the US, slavery was to the then Roman Empire. Just as the unborn are called in abortion literature blobs of tissue or flesh, so were slaves commonly looked upon as household tools or pack animals.

Why did not St Paul with all his wisdom condemn slavery? Probably he should have. It is a given that he was an unusually bright and perceptive theologian. However, do keep in mind that the great philosopher Aristotle wrote in defense of slavery as an institution. So too did many, if not most, of the other intellectual heavyweights of the centuries before us.

However, if we Americans are still intent on criticizing St Paul, we would do well to remember our own history. Slavery was of course quite acceptable in this land of the free and home of the brave well into the second half of the nineteenth century. This was true in the northern states as well as the southern. I write these words in New York a few miles from a slave graveyard. To compound this sin against the human person, the US Supreme Court in 1857 issued its infamous Dred Scott decision. That judgment, written by Chief Justice R.B. Taney, decreed that blacks "`whose ancestors...were sold as slaves' were not entitled to the rights of a Federal citizen and had no standing in court." In a word, the federal government was not obliged to protect them. They were non-persons.

If Paul of Tarsus were among us today, his IBM word processor might well be sending us a message along these lines. "Fellow Christians, Aristotle, I, and so many others were hoodwinked for centuries on the question of slavery. Our judgment on the question was totally wrong. We should have blown slavery out of the waters lock, stock, and barrel. Had we done so, the barbarism might have ended centuries sooner than it did. Do not let others deceive you into believing that the fetus is not human life. After all, what other kind of life can it be? Fight, lobby, and struggle for the unborn. Today's unborn are yesterday's slaves."

It required the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to our Constitution to undo the dreadful 1857 Supreme Court decision. Hopefully, with our efforts, a further amendment will protect unborn children.

Oh, incidentally, The New York Times (9/10/00) writes, "By conservative estimates, there are 27 million people working under various forms of slavery in the world today."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
23 Ordinary Time
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Spiritual Strength in Our Daily Lives  

There are many places in the Gospels where the Lord speaks using apocalyptic language.  Apocalyptic language, like that in the Book of Revelations, uses shocking imagery to catch the listener's or reader's attention.  Today's gospel provides a good example of this.  Jesus says that we cannot be his disciples if we come to him without hating father and mother, wife and husband, children and parents, brothers and sister, and even our own lives.  This is shocking.  This catches our attention.   

So, what is this about?  The Lord is not telling us to ignore the Fourth commandment, Honor your father and mother.  Nor is He telling us to refuse to see God in others.  And He is not telling us to ignore God's handwork in our own lives.  He is using startling imagery, apocalyptic imagery, to illustrate the demands of being His disciples.   

Let me explain this to you in one of the last places you would expect: a recent comic strip.  To be precise, a Dilbert strip, one that ran a little while ago.   Now for those of you who don't start their day with the comics, Dilbert is a comic strip about office workers with an incompetent, pointed haired boss, people of various abilities, and all sorts of other characters.    

One of these characters is a woman who is continually late for the morning meeting.  One of her co-workers decides to challenge her.    

The strip starts off with the woman saying: "Sorry, I'm late.  Traffic was terrible."   
The co-worker asks: "Isn't the traffic from your house always terrible this time of day?"    
The woman says, "Exactly.  That's why I'm late every day."  
The co-worker coaxes her along: "Do you see any way you could fix that?"  
The woman: "Well, I can't control the traffic."  
Co-worker: "You could leave earlier."
Woman: "Then I wouldn't get enough sleep"  
Co-worker: "You could go to bed earlier."  
Woman: "Then I wouldn't be able to watch Netflix until two in the morning,  
An uncomfortable pause is followed by the woman asking: "Do you want me to hate my life?"  
The co-worker sighs: "I didn't until now."  

Her lifestyle was keeping her from her work.  It is not that there is anything wrong with Netflix.  The problem is that it became more important to her than her job.  So, in her case, she should hate her life and anything that keeps her from doing what she needs to do.  Just as we should hate anything that keeps us from doing what we need to do: Serve God.   

The parables in today's Gospel about a man considering building a tower and a king preparing for war, tells us that we have to have a plan for how we are going to live as a Christian.  We have to ask ourselves how we can best prepare ourselves and the world for the Lord.  We have to stop and look at the many threads of our lives and consider how they are woven into the whole cloth.  We have our work or our school.  We have our families and our friends.  We have sports and arts. These are important.  We have our bodies.  We have to exercise, eat properly and basically take care of ourselves. 

Most important, we have those whom we love and those whom we need to seek out and love. All these are the threads that make up the fabric of our lives.  We also have to consider what are the parts of our lives that are actually tearing us away from whom we need to be.  This means that we have to make hard choices.  Maybe we need more sleep and less Netflix, or more family time and less time before a screen, computer, tablet or phone.   Maybe we need fewer office projects, school commitments, or any other activities that keep us away from those who need our love.

To be a disciples of Christ means to live beyond the insignificant things that we throw into our lives and to make time first for the things of God.  When Jesus speaks about hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even our own lives, He is using apocalyptic language, shocking language, telling us to hate anything and anyone that causes us to lose our focus on Him. 

Three years ago Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Most of us have been blessed with being witnesses to her life.  Those of us who are a bit older remember how stories began to circulate about a nun in India who left the convent in order to care for people dying in the slums of Calcutta, those whom she called the poorest of the poor.  We saw her determination to serve God, even if this meant leaving the relative comfort of the Sisters of Loretto where she was the principle of a girls' school, live among those on the streets, and eventually establishing a religious community of those willing to serve God's presence by caring for the dying, the sick, the starving and the abandoned.

More and more people throughout the world heard about Mother Teresa and her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.  In 1979 she received the Noble Peace Prize.  We all saw how she would not allow anything to get in the way of her serving God.  She and her sisters would spend hours in prayer so they could spend hours serving God's presence in others.  In her own way, Mother Teresa taught us today's gospel: we need to hate anything that could keep us from being a disciple of Christ, including the perceptions we have of ourselves. 

I have to share with you my favorite Mother Teresa story.  There is a great deal written about Mother Teresa, but I don't think you will find this story anywhere else, other than in a past homily I gave.  I heard this from  Fr. John Fullenbach, a wonderful, wonderful priest.  Fr. Fullenbach is a renown theologian who taught in Rome.  He related how he contacted Mother Teresa's sisters in Calcutta and asked if he could  join them for a few weeks between semesters at the seminary.  They welcomed him to join their work.  He flew to Calcutta, found the Missionaries of Charities' hospice, and had just finished telling the sister in charge that he was willing to do anything they needed to be done, when another sister came running in saying that there was a man dying on the streets.  The sister in charge turned to him and said, "Father, could you please go with her and bring the man back here to the hospice?"

Fr. Fullenbach followed the sister through the back alleys of Calcutta, in and out of narrow streets, and finally came upon what looked from the distance to be a heap of dirty rags.  It was the dying man.  Fr. Fullenbach bent over him and tried to comfort him and told him that he was going to take him to a nice, clean place where he could be cared for.  The man opened his eyes; saw that it was a priest talking to him, and spit in his face.  The priest felt a rage rising up within him.  He was a distinguished professor.  He came all the way from Rome to India to help these people.  And this man responded by spitting on him.  The sister explained that most of the people on the streets are not Catholic, but we still need to care for them.  So, Fr. Fullenbach picked the man up and carried him back to the hospice where the man was cleaned, given fresh clothes, fed a bowl of soup,  and put on a bed to die with dignity.

The sisters then asked Father to help out by rolling up some clean strips of cloth that could be used for bandages. He was doing this for about an hour, rolling the strips, and still feeling upset over the man spitting on him.  Suddenly the whole hospice shook with the screams of a little girl.  On the other side of the room there was a poor little girl, about nine, and covered in sores.  She was standing in a basin of water as one of the young sisters was trying to clean her, bathe her sores.  The little girl was enraged, hysterical, throwing a fit that she had a perfect right to throw.  She kept screaming and kicking and splashing the sister.  Father Fullenbach  was watching this horrible scene when he noticed everyone looking at one of the doors.  

It was Mother Teresa.  She had heard the racket and was coming in.  She started walking to the little girl.  "Well," Fr. Fullenbach thought, "Now we'll see what a saint is made of."  As she approached the little girl, she waved the young sister away.  The girl saw her and kept screaming, and then began splashing Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa kept walking towards her, very slowly, with a smile of love on her face.  By the time she got to the girl, she was drenched, but she didn't seem to mind.  Instead, she just kept smiling.  Then she held out her arms.  The child fell into them and just cried and cried.  Mother Teresa let her cry for as long as she wanted.  Then the little girl let Mother Teresa wash her and put clean clothes on her.   Fr. Fullenbach said to himself, "And that is what a saint is made of."

Nothing is more important than serving God. Not our stuff, not our likes, not our perceived position among our peers, not even the people in our lives.  We cannot allow anything to stand in the way of our being disciples of Jesus Christ.  

In John 12:25 the Lord tells us:  "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal."

Through the intercession of St. Teresa of Calcutta, may we all have the spiritual strength to be disciples of the Lord.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
23 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
23 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
23 Ordinary Time
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The opening phrase of today's Gospel is rather puzzling. Can Jesus really be telling us to hate our very closest relatives? And can he who came to give us life insist that we hate our own lives? Many scholars suggest that what we are dealing with is a difficulty of translation. They suggest that Jesus does not actually mean that we should hate our lives or those close to us. They tell us that the idiom used in Hebrew actually means 'love less' and not literally 'hate'. This then leaves us with the idea that we should love Jesus even more than we love our own close family or even our own lives.

That's the trouble with translation; taking things literally word by word can often lead to a confusing picture. What we need to do is to look at a whole expression and at what the speaker really intends to say. Occasionally we come across words that are quite impossible to translate. In these cases, translators might have to use several words to try to convey the meaning.

It is reckoned that Jesus spoke Aramaic since that was the language of the people of the area in which he grew up; but he would also have used Hebrew since that was the language spoken by the Rabbis and was used for religious texts. He may also have known Greek since that language was widely spoken by the more cosmopolitan elite.

Another reason it is presumed that Jesus spoke Aramaic is because it  was the language of the ordinary people and it was these ordinary people who were the focus for Jesus' teaching. But when it comes to the scriptures, we know that the Gospels were written in Greek even though many of the stories about Jesus and accounts of his teaching would have been communicated to the Evangelists in Aramaic. So, you can see that right from the start there is scope for misunderstanding and confusion.

Also, we must understand that when speaking to an audience a persuasive orator doesn't always speak literally or logically. Often, they use exaggeration for effect or in order to hold your attention. The phrase about a camel passing through the eye of a needle is an example of this. Jesus says that it is as difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle as it is for a rich man to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. The image is at the same time grotesque and impossible; but, of course, it is also unforgettable and that is why Jesus used it. Scholars call this sort of thing Biblical Hyperbole.

What we have to do is to take Jesus teaching as a whole; to look at the whole body of his teaching and realise what are the essential elements. Where we discover that there are apparent contradictions, we need to examine the text closely and ask ourselves if Jesus means certain words in a literal way or whether this is to achieve an oratorical effect.

Here in the phrase at the beginning of our text today I think that Jesus is trying to catch our attention. Clearly, he does not want us to hate our fathers and mothers; what he wants us to do is simply not to prefer them above him. Looking at everything he said we see that Jesus' whole thrust is to get us to love more and not less; and he most certainly does not want us to adopt feelings of hate.

We are faced with a similar problem in the last words of today's Gospel text. He says, 'In the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.' Does Jesus really want us to give up all of our possessions? If so, then how would we live? It would be very hard to survive without clothing or housing or food.

Of course, Jesus has quite a lot to say about poverty. And while we know that Jesus was not attached to material possessions he was certainly not as strict as John the Baptist who lived on locusts and wild honey. We know that Jesus was wearing a seamless robe at the time of the crucifixion which was perceived to be valuable by the soldiers who decided that the best thing to do would be to cast lots to see who would get it.

Also, we know that Jesus also took part in lavish meals laid on by local worthies who wanted to question him. We know too about the woman who Jesus permitted to anoint his feet with precious oil. We can think of other occasions when Jesus was not particularly attached to poverty. As we did before we have to see his teaching as a whole and when we do so we realise that what he really means is that we should not put attachment to possessions above love of him or the demands of discipleship.

Jesus sees material possessions as useful but transitory. He also realises that a superabundance of material things can bind a person. He realises that it is easy to be greedy and avaricious and that these things blind us to the importance of the spiritual life.

In the middle of the text given today we find two parables; one about the man who underestimated the cost of building a tower and so couldn't finish it and the other about a king marching to war against an adversary with double the number of soldiers. It is not at first clear what these two parables have to do with the rest of the text which is essentially about putting love of Jesus above everything else.

Probably St Luke had heard these parables and thought they were important and so had to find a place to insert them into his Gospel and he probably thought that this place was as good as any. The parables are about preparedness and the importance of making sure that you have the wherewithal to achieve your goals. Maybe this is the connection that Luke saw; that if our goal in life is to love Jesus above all things then we must think in a practical way about what this really means. If we want to love Jesus over everything and everybody then we have to make some real concrete decisions about how to achieve this goal. And it is useless to attempt to love Jesus in a half-hearted way or to put things or people above loving him because, if we do this, we are sure to fail.

Loving Jesus then is the goal; placing love of him higher than anything else in our lives. We can do nothing more worthy in life than making the love of Jesus our wholehearted objective.
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