Tag Archives: lectionary

The wedding garment of love

Matthew 22: 1-14

To be invited to a wedding feast would be a surprise for most of the poor people who came and listened to Jesus. A wedding feast would be beyond the means of most of them and you got an invitation to the feast if you were one of the friends of the king.

But Jesus also addressed the parable of the banquet to the religious leaders who would probably get any number of invitations to banquets.

In the parable the invited make all sorts of excuses to avoid the banquet; some maltreat and kill the king’s messengers. So the king sends out his servants to invite those in the highways and byways – not ordinarily invited to banquets. And the hall is filled.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like that kind of banquet where God does not want any empty seats. For the peasants of Galilee this would have been an impossible dream – but it is the dream of God.

Yet there is a discordant note. There is a man without a wedding garment.

The poor invited to the banquet would obviously not have good clothes to wear. I believe, the king would have offered everyone a tunic to wear, where all would be equal.

But what is this wedding garment?

In this both, Saint Augustine and Blessed Monseñor Romero agree.

The wedding garment is love.

In Sermon 90, Saint Augustine preached:

“Whatever can this wedding garment be? For an answer we must go to the apostle [Paul}, who says, ‘The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.”

In his homily on October 15, 1978, Monseñor Romero said:

“God desires the garment of justice. God wants Christians to clothe themselves in the garment of love.”

All are invited; all are welcome; but the God of Love, who offers us love and will fill us with love, asks that we put on love.

Love.

 

 

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Saying yes to being a slave

The great mystery of God’s compassion is that in his compassion,
in his entering with us into the condition of a slave,
he reveals himself to us as God.
Henri Nouwen

Sunday I preached in two different communities.

Though I referred to the Gospel and the reading from Ezekiel, I concentrated on Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 1-11. It is a marvelous reading to share with a community, especially communities struggling with divisions. Deepen my joy, Paul tells the Philippians by having the mind and heart of Christ – being one in spirt, one in love, one in your aspirations. Christ didn’t cling to his divine power but, emptying himself he became a slave.

Yes, the Greek word is slave, δοῦλος – not servant/attendant, διάκονος. We often hear it as servant, which is fine, but “slave”? You’ve got to be kidding? That’s nearly incomprehensible.

As Henri Nouwen well puts it, but in terms of “servant”:

Our God is a servant God. It is difficult for us to comprehend that we are liberated by someone who became powerless, that we are strengthened by one who became powerless, that we find new hope in someone who divested himself of all distinctions, and that we find a leader in someone who became a servant. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 24)

But I was not ready to be taught what this means.

In the morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word and Communion in the village of San Marcos Las Pavas. It is one of most remote communities in the parish, about an hour from my house. The final leg of the journey is an uphill ride with lots of curves. As I turned the curve before the church. I was stopped in my tracks. The road was impassible; because of the heavy rains a landslide left only a small, muddy path to get to the church.

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When I got the church my hands and shoes were muddy. As I stopped to wash my hands, an older man who I think is mentally challenged asked to wash my shoes. At first, I was reluctant and even began washing them myself. But then I remembered that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Whom am I to not let this humble man serve me?

As I preached later about Jesus the servant, the slave of all, I made a reference to this man. He showed me the face of God – not in his poverty, but in his service. He is teaching me to drop on my knees to God as well as to wash the feet and shoes of others. He is teaching me to let myself be served, to let myself be vulnerable. He is opening me to see Jesus in entirely new ways.

The Archangels

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

I must admit that I have some problems with Saint Michael. His presentation is too militaristic for me and besides the images of him often have him, a white-skinned muscled male, sticking his lance into a Satan who is portrayed as a man of color. I did love my visit in 1973 to Mont Saint-Michel, a place of beauty.

For me Gabriel will always be connected with the annunciation. He is God’s messenger announcing the coming of the Word made Flesh in the womb of Mary. He brings a challenging message of great joy. Fra Angelico’s images of the annunciation, especially the one in the convent of San Marcos in Florence, shape my understanding of his role. In most of the paintings, he enters Mary’s presence with arms crossed, humbling bearing a message of hope.

Yet the Archangel Raphael has a special place in my heart.

I was baptized in the church of Saint Raphael in the Meadows section of west Philadelphia. The church is no longer there but I have memories of going back there for May processions and other events.

I also spent almost twenty-four years working in St. Thomas Aquinas parish in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, whose patron is Saint Raphael.

In addition, our pastor wants to name the parish coffee field, Finca San Rafael, since some parishioners who have helped there have experienced it as a place of healing.

˝op7Years ago I came across an icon of Saint Raphael, from Concepción Abbey Press, that touches me in its simplicity.

Raphael, whose name means “God heals,” only appears in the book of Tobit. He is the guide for Tobit’s son, Tobiah, who goes seeking some money his father left with a relative in a distant land and who is also seeking a wife.

He is an archangel who serves a guide on the journey of life, who reminds us of God’s loving care for us in our daily lives. He is also the archangel who heals Tobiah’s wife, Sarah, of the demon who killed all her previous husbands on the marriage night. He protects true love from the advances of those who would degrade the marriage bed. He also heals Tobit, the just man who cared for the poor and buried the dead, risking his own life in the process.

Raphael shows us a God who loves, who cares, who heals, who guides. Raphael helps us on the path of life.

Not contracted

I never really understood the parable of the vineyard owner and his hired hands until I spent a few days in Houston in 1990.

Several times a day I passed a corner where a number of Latin American men were standing around. I had no idea why they were there, wasting their time – in my eyes. They were there not just in the morning, but also at noon, and in the afternoon. Where they just a bunch of lazy bums?

Then I saw a pick up drive up and stop. The driver was besieged by the men, all seeking a job. Some got into the pickup and went to work. The others would have to say, “No one has hired us.” (Matthew 20: 7)

Now here in Honduras I understand it even more. Though I don’t see people hanging out on street corners seeking work, I do see trucks and pickups crammed with people going to work on the coffee fields, especially during the coffee harvest. They are jornaleros, day laborers.

For many day laborers, the coffee harvest is one of the few ways they can earn cash. It’s not easy work; I’ve helped harvest coffee in the parish coffee fields. And it doesn’t pay all that much – maybe 30 lempiras, about $1.28, for every five-gallons picked. The really good harvesters can pick up to twelve of these, whereas most pick between five and eight.

In the days of Jesus, many of the day laborers were not paid by what they harvested but were paid a certain amount every day. A denarius was probably enough to pay for basics for a family for a day. If you didn’t get work, your family had little or nothing to eat.

I think of the men at the last hour. They have been waiting all day for work. They have almost given up hope when the owner arrives and offers a job. I think they must have thought, “Well, at least he’ll give us a few coins so we can buy a few eggs for the family.”

But when he gives them a day’s wage! I wonder how they felt. I would feel so grateful that I could now give my family some food for the next day. They wouldn’t starve.

And I would pause in wonder – and gratitude – at this owner who thinks more of the good of his workers than of his profits.

 

Jesus was a class warrior

“Woe to you who are rich,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel – Luke 6:24.

“St. Paul, in today’s first ready, identified greed as idolatry – Colossians 3:5.

St. John Chrysostom, whose feast is celebrated today preached against the rich:

“It is not possible for one to be wealthy and just at the same time. Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?”

“Even though you are rich, if you spend more than you need to, you shall have to render an account of the money entrusted to you. . . . You have received more than others not that you may use it for yourself alone, but that you may be a good steward for those others.”

But I need to remember that my monthly Social Security check is more than twice the minimum wage for the best paid Honduras workers, in a country where many survive, without minimum-wage jobs, for less than $2.00 per day.

I am rich.


The first quote from St. John Chrysostom comes from Robert Ellsberg’s Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses.

Mercy in the midst of conflict

This morning in Plan Grande I’ll be baptizing a young man who will be married this coming Saturday. As I planned my homily I began to ask what it means to be incorporated into the Church, the People of God at this time and place.

To be baptized is not to join the church, to change one’s religion. It’s to be made – perhaps better, re-made – into a member of a People, a community, God’s people.

But what does this mean in light of today’s readings?

“Have no debt except to love one another,” Paul wrote to the Romans (13:8).

But love does not mean a life without conflicts. It means living in conflicts with love, maintaining relationships. Within the People of God, Jesus is present – where two or three are gathered together. (Matthew 18:15-20)

Within this community in Jesus, we are called approach problems, conflicts, sin – also remembering that Jesus is present and seeks reconciliation.

There are two aspects of the Gospel reading that struck me this morning.

First, the Greek manuscripts have two different readings. In some, the Greek says, “If anyone sins.” In others, it reads, “If anyone sins against me.” Quite different. But still, the message is maintain the conversation within the framework of the People of God.

Secondly, the text says that if someone doesn’t listen to the church, the People of God, we are to treat that person as the pagan and the tax-collector.

At first, this seems to say that we must reject the one who refuses to be reconciled or who refuses to give up his or her sin. But, in a footnote to a new Spanish translation of the New Testament (prepared under the auspices of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference,, the editors remind us that we must look at how Jesus treated the pagans (Matthew 8: 5-13 and 9: 18-26) and the tax collectors (Matthew 9: 9-13) – with mercy!

We are called to always maintain the mutual love which we owe to all – even if they don’t want to be reconciled with us or if they persist in sin.

Within the People of God – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

To all – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

Owe no one nothing but mercy.

 

Good news for the poor

Last Thursday I gave a presentation on Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium to those who will be going on mission in our parish in October. I had recently met with a group of confirmation catechists where I asked the catechists what is the meaning the word Gospel – evangelio in Spanish. She hemmed and hawed. And so I decided to talk about the word.

Gospel, Evangelio, means good news. But I think we always need to talk about the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the light of the bad news around us.

In today’s Gospel, Luke 4: 16-30, we find Jesus taking as his own mission the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring Good News to the poor.”

There’s lots of bad news – hurricane in Texas, land slide in Sierra Leone, deadly flooding in India and other south Asian countries. But there is also the threat to end a program, DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and place maybe 800,000 young immigrants in danger of deportation. These young people came to the US as minors, live in the US as good, law-abiding persons. Yet, they may be the latest victims of anti-immigrant sentiments that have no place in the lives of people of faith.

In the face of this, how will we followers of Christ be “Good News for the poor,” for the outcasts, the strangers, the despised and rejected?

I am far from the US at this point. I often try to persuade young people not to go to the US. But, as one said to me, “What does my country have to offer me?” But what can I do to help them see hope here? And what can any of us do to provide a place of love and safety for all God’s people.

Here’s the text of the Catholic bishops’ of Iowa to Iowa’s Congressional delegation

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports DACA youth. DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.

Since 2012, nearly 800,000 of these young people have come forward, passed background checks, paid a fee, and received permission to live and work in America. With DACA they have advanced their education, started small businesses and more fully established themselves as integral members of our society.

We urge you to publicly support DACA youth here in Iowa. We also call upon you to move forward in a bipartisan manner and find a permanent legislative solution to ensure that DACA youth can remain in the United States and can continue to reach their God-given potential. One such existing proposal is the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017, which we support. We promise to work with lawmakers from all parties to ensure that DACA youth are able to stay in this country and live without fear.

Lastly, to DACA youth and their families here in Iowa, we note the words of the USCCB Migration Committee Chair, Bishop Joe Vasquez: “Please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country.”

Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque
Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City
Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines
Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport