137. The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. EVANGELII GAUDIUM
When our Blessed Lord walked this earth, he confined himself to a small patch of land in the Middle East, 8,000 square miles. That's roughly the same size of our local Diocese of San Diego!
Jesus spent three intense years of his adult life traveling its roads, climbing the hills and valleys of his native land, not only preaching the Word of God and the coming of the Kingdom, he also saw the plight of his people, especially the poor, the forgotten, the abandoned sick, those forced into servitude and poverty by the rich and the powerful, families torn apart by war and violence, the livelihoods of ordinary people exploited by the greed and the corruption of local political and even religious leaders of his day.
He was not like a census worker simply gathering information and statistics or like someone on a fact-finding mission. He responded to what he saw, not like a politician might at a rally nor a local spokesperson reporting live from a community affected by social injustice or discrimination.
Instead, Christ was moved with the compassion of God, at times even provoked to anger but also and always, sharing with them all, taking upon himself, their sufferings, the anguish of their hearts and souls and even their hopes for a better world for their families and their children.
He did not assure them that he would fight for them. He assured them that he would die for them, for all of them without favoritism or special interest groups - his heart, the heart God ached with anguish for the rich and the poor alike, the natives of the land as well as the foreigners, for the devout religious and also for the corrupt and the selfish. The eyes of God penetrates the souls of every man, woman and child, melting away the protective armor that we often clothe ourselves with, or the scars and bruises we push to the front too often excuse our anger and bitterness.
We call ourselves Christians. We do so, not because we simply follow Christ. It is easy to walk behind him, in his shadow. And many did, even his disciples. But to be Christian is to see what Christ sees, to experience what he experiences, to be moved with the same heart and soul as his. And to respond in the same measure as Christ himself does, even to the point of offering our very own lives for the salvation of many, and even just for a few!
A case in point is the observation Christ makes as he watched two individuals going to the temple to pray. If we follow Christ and simply look from behind his shoulder we would see a traditional and devout, well meaning religious individual standing before the altar, assuring God he is doing all that he is convinced God would expect of him.
But looking out from behind Christ's shoulder, we would also notice a awkward visitor hanging around the front door of the church not knowing whether to go in or not, who doesn't know how to bless himself or doesn't remember any of the prayers he was taught as a child. That's what we would see from peering out from behind Christ.
But a Christian looks out to the world "with" with the eyes of Christ, "with" the heart of Christ. We must see beyond the appearances. We see and feel what Christ sees and feels - the deep down truth. In this light we now see in the Gospel one person who is blind to the fact that there is something wrong with their soul when he can only see himself in the light of other people’s misfortunes. He is not interested in the gaze of God and what God sees in him. Instead he wants to dictate to God how he himself wants to be seen.
St. Augustine reminds us that, “It would have been more worthwhile to instead inform [Christ, the healer of souls] by confession, the things that were wrong with himself, instead of keeping his wounds secret and have the nerve to make oneself appear righteous at the expense of the scars of others. So it is not surprising that the tax collector went away healed, since he had not been ashamed of showing God where he felt pain”. (St. Augustine, Sermon 351.1)
To love our neighbor as ourselves, we have to see our neighbor and ourselves with the same "insight" of Jesus. Many followed him. But when he disappeared, many of his followers looked for someone or something else to hide behind. Not so for a Christian who shares in the same vision, has a heart like Christ's and sees themselves and all people with the eyes and heart of the Lord.
And not only with eyes and heart. But also with hands and feet, with muscle and mind, with the same motivation and desire of Christ to bring healing and salvation to every soul and body.
During the time our Lord walked this earth, what did he see, how did he respond, what did he do? We are now his eyes, his hands, his voice and his feet. Our territory today is much greater, even global. How much more are we exposed to the human condition, the suffering of so many, the injustices still festering in the lives and communities on such a vast scale? It is for this reason today is marked out in our Christian calendar as World Mission Sunday.
Don't just see the suffering of the world through the lens of a camera, a commercial or a poster campaign to feed the hungry and bring a message of hope to those who live in the shadows of the world. See the Mission of the Church through the eyes and heart of Christ and then, moved with sacrificial generosity, give yourself to Christ's vision to bring about a new heaven and a new earth.
Our local saints should also inspire us. St. Junipero Serra who travelled California, not only preaching the Word of God but building sanctuaries and farmlands to inspire the peoples of this land to a vision of how Christ lives and works among us. Our own parish patron, St. Margaret of Scotland, who dressed the wounds of the injured and feed from her kitchen the hungry and desolate while sharing the Scriptures from her own Book of the Gospels. And St. Jerome Emiliani, a military veteran who witnessed the carnage and rubble wars leave behind, especially abandoned children and orphans cut off from the nurturing love of families and friends.
Yes, we might feel overwhelmed by so much a vision of the world as we see it. Even St. Paul in the second reading moaned "At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me." But he would go on to console us that "the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth." (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18)
Yes, we are rescued from the lion's mouth, when our mission in this world is accomplished with the eyes and heart of Christ.
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from him in accord with his will.” (Comp. CCC 534) The Holy Scriptures for this Sunday demonstrate that prayer can be something that comes naturally to us as well as demanding effort and endurance. For example, in the midst of a battle the people desperately look to Moses to quickly pray on their behalf. The parable Jesus tells us in the Gospel shows how, in order to prayer, we have to go out of our way, make an effort, and even have a plan in order to pray not only consistently but successfully.
Sometimes prayer comes naturally and other times it’s work. When someone is sick, when we are afraid or uncertain and especially when we find ourselves desperate, we would turn to God and pray. But there is also that element of difficulty in prayer - finding the time when our lives are too busy, calming the mind when our senses are targeted by the outside world in so many ways, focusing our attention when distractions abound and directing our thoughts when discipline of mind and body is often times lacking.
Our individual, personal and private prayer before God, whether at home or in quiet moments, is extremely important and should never be underestimated or taken for granted. In fact, time should be set aside every day to enter into prayer, regardless what our daily circumstances are, or even whether we feel like it or not. The Psalms and are essentially model prayers which come from the heart and even the anguish of the human soul. For this reason the Psalms are often called the Church’s Prayer Book. If you don’t know where to start in praying to God, make these words your own – search through all the different psalms and allow them to put words into your mouth and to resonate in our heart. When St. Paul was writing to St. Timothy about the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Book of Psalms is included.
But if you are looking to get something instantly out of prayer, don’t! You have to put something into it first. When we worship God in prayer, is not so that we can receive a warm, feeling inside or so that we can get something out of it. Prayer is first and foremost the lifting up of our minds and hearts to the God who created the universe out of nothing and holds everything in existence, who sees our lives from an immensely greater perspective than we could ever imagine. Prayer demands much effort from us, not because we should be afraid of God. Through Christ we have seen his face and know of His love. Our response comes from a sense of humility before such love reveled to us and the acknowledgement that the sacrifices we make are worth the effort on our part.
Those who wrote and prayed the psalms never expected instant results. Rather, the prayer was made persistently and continuously, much like the widow in the parable the Lord talks about. It “assures us God will bend his ear to those who offer him their prayers, not carelessly nor negligently but with earnestness and constancy. (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 119) “Even if he makes us wait, he will nevertheless answer us …We should eagerly cry out to him day and night, begging him with a broken heart and a humble spirit. ‘A humble contrite heart, he will not spurn’.” Martyrius, Book of Perfection 75)
A similar incident is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat.8: 1-4). Jesus cleanses a man from leprosy. In that incident, the Lord reached out and touched the “contagious” individual. It implied that both were not afraid of each other for they talked face to face. No doubt Christ saw the torment in that leper’s eyes and was moved with compassion at his agony of body and soul. Yet, in today’s Gospel, according to St. Luke, ten lepers keep their distance from the Lord. They know their condition, afraid they must be to approach Christ in their ugliness and destitution. They keep their distance and call out to the Lord, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.” A few Sunday’s ago, we heard a similar call for pity being called out from a distance – from the rich man who died and went to hell for he ignored his responsibilities to the likes of the poor Lazarus who also died and went to heaven (Lk 16:19-31). Remember what the rich men called out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me…I am suffering torment in these flames”. And Abraham calls back reminding the punished soul that the distance between heaven and hell cannot be bridged. But, regardless of our own circumstances in his life, despite how unjustly we think life has been dealt out to us, this is not hell. Unlike hell, where all is eternal and time does not exist, we have time and time not only is a great healer. Time can also save us. We should be grateful for the gift of time. The Gospel today can help us reflect, not only on those who are deemed outcasts by society. There are many who truly need our compassionate outreach. But closer to home, for this is where we begin, we should first reflect on how we can easily distance ourselves from Christ and even how we can grow content with that distance to the point that we allow ourselves to be shaped by other influences such as work, school, sports or even retirement. It is no exaggeration that sin serves the purpose to widen the gap between us and our Savior, pushing this gap even into eternity when time runs out. It is, in a way, like a spiritual leprosy, which if left untreated can eat away at our very souls. By its nature, whether we freely choose it or allow it to creep into our lives by ignoring its reality, it can create distance between us and the Lord affecting our relationship with the world and our social responsibilities. If you sense a distance between yourself and God never be content with it and do not allow it to widen. Never assume that this is the way it should be, an excuse that there should be a wide gulf between me and God, after all he is God and I am a mere mortal! Because of Christ, that is not the way it should be. As a point of reference, the Church’s liturgy makes the point (and this is further developed in the Eastern liturgies). The prayer of the priest when he adds a few drops of water into the wine reads “may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbles himself to share in our humanity”. Because of Christ, there can be no distance between God and humanity. For this reason you can be assured that if you call out to God, he will hear and Christ bridges the distance. But you have to call out loud, not in a whisper. Like the ten lepers with whom we are surely numbered, together we have to recognize our sinfulness, we have to encourage and direct our efforts and help each other to respond to the Lord’s directives, despite what can often get in the way. Sometimes it takes a community of sinners, as we are, to band together with a common purpose to approach the Lord and call out to Him for help. And that we do. But the gospel highlights a common statistic - that it is usually one in ten who will actually recognize that their blessings have come from God and not from their own efforts and to God they return to give thanks. There can be no other reason why we are here every Sunday but to give thanks and praise to God for what he has done for us. If the Gospel today serves as our standard, nine out of ten are blessed indeed but will never come close to seeing the face of Christ. Only one in ten “sees” their salvation. “That one is given much more than the rest. Besides being healed, he was told, ‘Stand up and go, your faith has save you’”. (Athanasius, Festal Letter 6). If you have not heard his voice in your soul, or felt his breath upon your heart, it is time to return to the Lord. This Holy Eucharist provides us not only the opportunity, but also with the Lord Himself. To recognize our Savior here in the Blessed Sacrament means that we can not take for granted all he has done for you and me personally. That makes this a time of reflection and a time of thanksgiving. (cf. CCC 2637)
The Gospel we have listened to today asks us if we have faith in God? Do you have faith in Jesus? Well, “Yes!” you might say. “That’s the reason I am here at Mass”.
For many of us, we are here because it is our custom, we have a sacred sense of religious obligation to be here every Sunday - it is weaved into our spiritual sense to keep the Lord’s Day holy and the obligation to give thanks for the blessings of God, manifested through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
But maybe, that’s not a full answer to the question, “Do you have faith?” Sometimes, we mistake faith for our good works, even though they may be inspired by God’s grace. So, what then is faith, in itself?
Does faith come from my heart, giving me a feeling of the closeness of God? But what when I experience pain, loss, disillusionment - when I feel that God is distant? Does it come from my mind, giving me a sense that my life can only have meaning from within a particular belief system? What, when I encounter hypocrites beside me and even in front of me and it doesn't make sense? Maybe, faith is not ultimately about where your heart is, or how you understand it.
To illustrate this point, yesterday I baptised a number of babies. Their understanding of the world around them is for now upside down, just shapes and colors. Their emotions are for the most part, instinctual - reactions based on the stimuli of feet being tickled, funny noises being made, particular flavors of food being tested for the first time.
But these babies are now baptised, fully Christian, members of the Church of God. From the first moment of conception, God had given them, as he give each of us, the gift of faith - the size of a mustard seed. And inside that seed is all the unique spiritual DNA needed, a road map, if unfolded carefully during life, will lead the way to God, through all the challenges and distractions along the way.
So what is faith? In this light, faith is the discovery that you are a unique part of God’s divine plan - that my life is not an accident, and by the same token, my life is not mine to determine on my own terms how it should unfold. Like the servant in the parable, I am doing only what I am obliged to do.
So, rather than trying to blaze my own path that will eventually in time be trampled down to dust to become nothing, the gift of faith compels me, throughout my life, to discover that only God understands and rejoices in the road he as already mapped out for me, even though it is not always clear from my own perspective, or even in tune with my own particular expectations.
As as an encouragement to us to discover shaper tools, to help us appreciate what meaning God has given to each of our lives, but also as a help to our young men in particular to discern if priesthood could be God’s plan for them in particular, I am asking that one of our two local visiting seminarians might briefly address us.
Although the Lord identifies the poor man who goes to heaven by the name of Lazarus, the rich man will forever be nameless and forgotten. During his life, the rich man did nothing great or worthy of heaven's praise. The rich man is really a “nobody” in hell, while the poor man is identified as “Lazarus”, a name honored in heaven among the saints of God.
Your name, my name, is not simple letters sown together and registered on our birth certificate and then paired with a social security number and then, later on in life, matched with a photograph on a driving license or passport for identification purposes.
Unfortunately, identity theft exists too often in our world. And we easily associate a thief as someone who goes to great length to keep their real identity secret. At the other extreme, someone who has an inflated ego might want to make a name for themselves, so that the world will take notice of them and their name will be remembered in history, or at least significant enough to be mentioned in wikipedia!
But before the universe came into existence, God had already given each one of us a unique name, known to him, a name that he has carefully sequenced into the unique pattern of our DNA and threaded through the fabric of our soul. God calls us out of the crowd by that name.
By careful reflection and discernment, through testing and through trial, cooperating with the grace of God, our whole life's journey is marked responding to that eternal calling out to God. This way, we can know who we truly are and how our individual lives might reflect our God-given identity.
This is what we do when we respond to our unique God-given vocation in life. Many will find their God-given identity through the vocation of marriage and family life. Yet there are some, even among us here today, to whom God is calling who are destined to find their true identity through the vocation of priesthood.
To help young men to discern if God has called them by name to be his future priests in the family of the Church, and to remind us all to pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, next Sunday will see two visiting seminarians from our local St. Francis Center who will speak to us of how they are trying to listen to the voice of God - to discover if he is calling young men of our parish by name to be the Church's future priests, to the praise and glory of God.
In the meantime, us ask the Holy Spirit to awaken within ourselves a sense of our own God-given vocation - that each one of us has been brought into this world by God for a particular reason, a divine purpose. And if we forget, God will himself lay himself down on our doorstep, not to trip us up, nor to be an obstacle as to how our life must enfold each day. God disguises himself in the poor, the unloved, the sick and the forgotten of our throwaway culture. He does so, not to make us feel guilty or force us to push aside an irritant. Rather, there are many around us God calls Lazarus. God send them to save us, and as a forceful reminder we all share a common home, common dignity and destiny. Refreshed by the Bread of Life, may Christ's words and presence reignite our common vocation to help each other to taste a bit of heaven here on earth, so that one day we might all enjoy it eternally with Abraham and all the saints forever.
How do we interpret this unusual parable? Rather than focusing on the particular parts or the peculiarities of the players within the story, the larger picture might be easier to appreciate.
Consider what the word economy means. From the Greek, oikonomia - it points to the good management of a household or a family, to be able to look after everyone's needs, to be responsible making wise investments which will ultimately benefit and build up the community.
But if one's ultimate aim is to make money, and one's life is driven by the end goal of making financial profit, consider the effects. Employers, employees, workers, customers and clients are not valued on their worth as human beings, but only on their usefulness, their productivity. When we reduce a person to nothing more than a means of profit, a free man becomes a slave; it leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheistic thinking. (CCC 2424)
In this line of thought, is it any wonder that future babies are put on hold or aborted because of the fear of financial burden of God's beautiful gift of parenthood. How many of the sick and elderly are quickly wheeled away when no longer seen as an asset? For this reason the Lord warns us in the Gospel, "You cannot serve both God and mammon" that is, both God and money. Choose one or the other, but not both. There is only one God.
The Gospel parable should be an encouragement to every one of us to take our Catholic faith as seriously as the work we undertake Monday to Friday. Consider the amount of energy each person invests in their regular job, the planning, preparation, accountability, mileage, long hours, the investment opportunities, the paperwork, the financial planning - all for the future! But what if we would harness and ride on the wave of that energy and instinct to "succeed" and use it to the same measure but for our catholic Faith, then, maybe, instead of the fear, anxiety, anger and panic, we would instead witness a faith made stronger in times of trial, hope when tomorrow seems uncertain and charity in our love when instinct tells us to hold back. Out of our ingenuity can come forth compassion for our neighbors needs above our own. Greed gives way to generosity by the same measure.
This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important in the discipline of the Catholic and Christian character (Comp. CCC 301). Any economic favor given those in need, and prompted by charity, is almsgiving. It is not prompted by judging the person worthy or even trusting they will put it to good use. Nor does almsgiving come from giving something so that you can feel good about it, or because the recipient is judged worthy. No! If you can justify why you should not be generous or charitable, then that it more the reason why you should. St. Augustine recommends "give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who will deserve it... let in the unworthy, in case the worthy are excluded." (Sermon 359A)
We came into this life vulnerable and with nothing, dependent on the strength and generosity of others. In the evening of our lives we will also be vulnerable with nothing to take with us. But in the economy of salvation we have undeservedly benefited from Christ's generous sacrifice. We have no excuse not to make the effort to repay even in small measure the blessings we have received in great abundance.
In the distant past commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son where. Different scenarios are often proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. Others might see in the parable some resemblance of old family feuds, such as between Cain and Abel, or Isaac and Ishmael. Even in today's heated political climate, some might be tempted to interpret this parable about two opposing political and sociological ideologies! However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.
The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.
We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.
As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.
Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.
Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back to one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.
We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.
This holy banquet is now prepared. Before approaching this sacrificial meal, our blessed Lord reminds us that we must be first reconciled with God from our sins and with each other of our offenses.
Even though we are leaving summer behind, there are countless opportunities to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father and through Him to each other, if we respond to our father's plea to share our table with all our family of saints and sinners. This way we know that we have a place at the wedding banquet of the Son of God who continues to search out for and find the lost, the neglected, the reckless and the angry, and bring them home to safety.