Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30

In today’s Gospel the master says to the servant
who buried his single talent in the ground,
“You wicked, lazy servant!”
But was laziness really the servant’s problem?
After all, digging the hole to bury the money in
must have required some effort—
perhaps even more effort than putting it in the bank,
which was the master’s suggestion.
I think the servant was speaking truthfully
when he said that it was out of fear
that he buried the talent in the ground.
After all, his master was a demanding person
and while a talent was a lot of money
(about a thousand dollars),
he had still been given less
than the other two servants,
so he had less margin of error
and had to be careful.
According to rabbinic law
if someone entrusted you with something and you buried it
then you could no longer be held liable for its loss,
since you had taken the safest course of action
(far safer than entrusting it
to the speculation of bankers).
The servant’s problem was not laziness, but fear:
a fear of a master who would hold him
to an exact accounting
and a fear of loosing what he had
in the pursuit of something greater.

This parable is not, obviously, about how we need
to be industrious entrepreneurs with our money,
and about how laziness is a great evil.
Nor is it simply, I think, about how we need
to be industrious entrepreneurs
with the spiritual gifts that God has given us
and about how spiritual laziness is a great sin.
I think it addresses a deeper question of how we see God:
whether we see God as one who’s chief interest
is exacting from us what is owed,
or as one who wants to say to us,
“Come, share your master’s joy.”
The problem is not spiritual laziness.
As shocking as it may seem
in the context of contemporary American culture,
Jesus is not calling us to work harder,
to invest more wisely,
to put in more hours,
or to “lean in”
so that we can “have it all”
(spiritually speaking, of course).
Rather, Jesus is calling us to dig up the gift
we have buried in our fear—
the gift of the good news of Jesus himself—
and unleash it on the world.

To do this, we must let our fear be replaced by love.
If we act out of a conviction that God’s desire
is not to exact his due
but to have us share our master’s joy
then we become radically free
from the fear of loosing what we have
and radically free
for taking risks for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Indeed, according to the logic of God’s kingdom,
it is only if we risk all we have
that we can keep anything.
Perhaps more than any other,
love is a treasure that can be lost through fear.
We can keep it only if we risk its loss
by opening our heart to another
and setting that other’s good above our own,
never knowing ahead of time whether our love will be returned
or will be met with indifference and even hostility,
just as the love of Jesus was met with the scourging pillar,
the crown of thorns, and the cross.
The path of love might seem imprudent
but it is only if we take the risk of Christ
that we can share in the resurrection of Christ
and hear the invitation,
“Come, share your master’s joy.”

We should be willing to risk everything
for Christ’s kingdom of love.
But what does this mean in the concrete?
Well, it might mean in part something as simple
as installing showers for the homeless
in the public restrooms in St. Peter’s Square,
as the Vatican announced it would do this week.

And what about us, here at Corpus Christi?
We might feel as if we, being such a small parish,
are a bit like that servant
who was given but a single talent.
We have limited resources,
so perhaps it would be wisest
to focus on preserving what we have
and not to risk new ventures.
But this is the path of fear,
not the path of love;
this is not the path of resurrection,
which is the path of risk.
Not to put too fine a point on it,
but if Jesus is right, and he usually is,
we will lose everything if we seek only to maintain,
if we fearfully bury out talent in the earth
rather than thinking of new ways
of living our Christian life together
and proclaiming the Gospel
in our neighborhood and city.
With our new small Christian communities
and outreach to immigrant children
we are beginning to do this,
but we must always be looking for new risks to take.

If God is truly the one revealed
in the cross and resurrection of Jesus,
what risks can we undertake
for the sake of God’s kingdom?
We must always be asking ourselves what new thing
the God who desires nothing more
than that we share his joy
is calling us to do,
is calling us to be.
I believe that we are being called to be,
by God’s grace, true to our name:
Corpus Christi, the body of Christ;
by God’s grace we can be the body
that opened itself in love on the cross
and was raised by God to new life
to bring life and faith and healing to the world.
As the parent of teenagers,
I never thought I'd utter these words,
but get out there and engage in risky behavior.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

An All Saints / Wedding Homily

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:8a; Matthew 5:1-12a

I’m not sure S______ and J______ were aware of it at the time
but the day that they chose for their wedding
is one of the great feast days of the Catholic Church: All Saint’s Day.
The saints are those who have, as St. Paul put it,
fought the good fight,
finished the race,
kept the faith;
they are those holy ones who have received the crown of glory
and are even now enjoying life in God’s eternal kingdom.
Some of these saints are known to us and named as individuals,
and many of them have special days each year
on which we remember them.
But we believe that there are many saints
whom we do not know,
whom we cannot name,
and so we have this feast day to remember
all of those holy people
who lived out their lives in God’s service
quietly and out of the world’s sight.

Our two readings give us a picture of what it means to be a saint.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us
the qualities possessed by those who are blessed
and what rewards await them:
they are “poor in spirit,”
meaning that they humbly know their need for God,
they are meek, and they hunger and thirst for righteousness,
they are merciful,
pure of heart,
and peacemakers.
They are the ones to whom God will grant his kingdom:
they will be comforted,
shown mercy,
and called children of God.
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians,
draws all of the virtues of the saints together
into the one virtue of love:
a love that is patient and kind,
that does not seek its own interests,
a love that bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things,
a love that can fight the good fight,
finish the race,
keep the faith.

But how does one become a saint?
Is it simply a matter
of trying really, really hard to be a good person?
While that is, of course, important,
becoming a saint is really something much more mysterious.
It is mysterious because it is something
that God’s grace does to us,
something that is brought about
by the mystery God’s love at work within us.

S______ and J______, today you enter in a new way
into the mystery of God’s love.
In the Catholic tradition we believe marriage to be a sacrament,
meaning it is both a sign and a cause of God’s grace.
In other words, your married life together
will both make God’s love present to you in a special way
and also show that love to those whom you meet.
But even more,
if you open yourselves up to the grace
that God gives you in your married life together,
you can become saints.
Your marriage can make you
into one of those people we celebrate today,
those who in their everyday lives fight the good fight
in the cause of love and mercy.
My prayer for you on your wedding day
is that the years ahead
be filled with joy that comes from God’s grace,
the grace that can transform you together
into the holy ones of God.