God will stand by those firm in faith

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Nov. 7 (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 7, 9-14; Psalm 17; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38)

How much are we willing to suffer for our faith and our cherished beliefs? Brave talk is easy but it is not until faced with some fearsome choices that we discover what is inside of us.

The Book of Maccabees was written during the second century BC at the time of the Jewish revolt against the oppression of the Antiochus Epiphanes, who was one of the Greek successors to Alexander the Great. This tyrant attempted to wipe out Jewish culture and religion replacing it with Greek culture. Jewish religious practices were forbidden and refusal to comply was punished by death.  

God seeks salvation for all

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 31 (Wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

Some people gaze at the stars and lose their faith — what are we in the context of infinity? Others, however, gaze at the same stars and experience what can only be called mystical illumination.

God is our ultimate judge

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 24 (Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

Justice is often portrayed as a blindfolded figure holding a set of scales implying that justice is blind and even-handed.

Unfortunately, we know from experience that this is not always the case. We have seen notorious cases in which the perpetrator of a heinous crime wiggles through the net and walks away free thanks to a very expensive and high-powered defense team. Often justice depends far too much on where a person is situated in the social and economic scale and the influence of one’s personal connections.

On the other hand, many have been unjustly accused and convicted for lack of an effective spokesperson or defense. Even winning a judgment against a huge corporation can be an empty victory for they have the resources to drag the appeals’ process on forever. All of this can leave us with a sense of bitterness and cynicism and it was no different in the time in which Sirach was written.

The author assures us that we all stand before the judgment of one who cannot be bought, manipulated or influenced in any way. God is impartial — it does not matter who we are. God listens to and judges the unvarnished facts of the case according to the principles of divine justice. And the judgment that is given is always fair — no appeals necessary or allowed.

Will we see this justice in our own lifetime? Sometimes that is the case. People who are unjust and unkind to others sooner or later bring it down on their own heads — as the old saying goes, “what goes around comes around.” Cruel or unjust systems — political, economic or religious — ultimately sow the seeds of their own destruction. But even if justice is not given in this world we all eventually meet ourselves for human beings cannot cheat or trick God. It is important to live with a sense of moral purpose and to seek justice always, both for ourselves and others.

At the same time we must accept with serenity the fact that justice will not always unfold according to our preferred time and method.

The author of 2 Timothy, a follower of Paul, likens our spiritual journey to a race. The most important thing is not winning the race but finishing it. It is fidelity and commitment that is required rather than perfection. Paul was probably tempted to cut and run at times but as the passage says, he kept the faith. The crown of righteousness is a symbol for the “prize” given to those who keep trying regardless of difficulties, failures or mistakes. Our own culture does not value commitment or long-term fidelity as much as in the past — perhaps this is an antidote for our own “cut and run” attitude.

This wonderful story of the tax-collector and the Pharisee is as valid today as it was when it was written. It is not about Pharisees, it is about us and about all religious people. If the story were told today in a Christian setting nothing would change except the labels. The target is spiritual smugness and the conviction that one has arrived spiritually. The Pharisee in the story did not look deeply into himself — if he had done so, he would have realized that he despised in the tax collector what he feared most in himself. Being zealous and punctilious in obeying laws and rules does not create a just and loving person. The tax collector is one who is free of denial or illusions — he knows and feels his brokenness and desperate need for God. No excuses, no plea bargaining, no game playing, just a heartfelt plea for forgiveness.

This story has so much to teach us today, especially about the tendency to despise those of whom we do not approve. The debates that swirl around the issues of our day can scarcely be called debates for they lack the civility, decorum and respect that form the heart of the debating tradition.

Demonization and character assassination of those who think or act differently are the projection of our own inner darkness. St. Paul had it quite right with his insistence that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and stand in need of mercy and forgiveness.

A little humility and charity go a long, long way.

The true follower will persist in prayer

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 17 (Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)

The image that a military commander projects on the battlefield is often an important element in an army’s victory or defeat. Our own time has not lacked flamboyant generals: Patton, Montgomery, MacArthur and others have left indelible images on our historical and cultural memory. In the ancient world the general was often in the thick of the fighting, and his death or capture would often signal the defeat of his army as his demoralized troops lost heart and fled.

Beware falling into the judgment trap

“It’s hard getting to church in the city,” a man remarked. “By the time you’ve finished judging everybody you see on the subway, you’re not really in the frame of mind for church.”

Why is it so difficult for us to stop judging? Even becoming aware we’re doing it is a task-and-a-half. The subway man may be readier for church than most of us, since he at least sees that he’s judging.

God's compassion is reserved for all

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 10 (2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

What happens when your hated enemy comes asking for help? Naaman the Syrian was a foreigner and non-Israelite as well as the commander of the enemy army — not much to commend himself to Elisha. There was more than enough reason to reject his request for healing of his leprosy.

Faith helps give us hope in our world

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 3 (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10)

When is God going to do something about this mess? How could a compassionate and just God permit the things that go on in our world? These are not trendy modern questions — the folks in ancient Israel were asking them too.

The day of reckoning awaits the unjust

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 26 (Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31)

Tough times are rarely equally tough for everyone. Even during the present economic crisis the sales of extreme luxury cars has actually increased. The beautiful people have continued to play, CEOs of failing companies have continued to receive fabulous bonuses and oil companies have raked in record profits.

We can only serve one master

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 19 (Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13)

A right-wing commentator in the United States recently proclaimed that social and economic justice is a code word for fascism or communism. He went on to insist that anyone hearing references to these concepts in a sermon or homily should leave that particular church immediately.

Living in harmony

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Sept. 12 (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32)

The Golden Calf is a potent symbol in our religious and even cultural consciousness. It seems to epitomize idolatry, immorality and infidelity and is the “stick” used in many sermons or moral exhortations. Worshipping the Golden Calf can of course take many forms — money, possessions, success and the like — but these are the more obvious manifestations of something that is far deeper.

Triumph of the Cross is all about love

Over the millennia of human existence, we’ve thought about the stars. We’ve drawn them, personified them, deified them, told stories about them, named them, speculated how to get to them. Our Milky Way galaxy is one of billions, our sun one of billions of stars in it and we’re one of eight surrounding planets (too bad, Pluto). Remember the speck of dust Horton the Elephant noticed and that it carried millions of tiny creatures? Are we at least as minuscule as that? Take a night-time trip out to the countryside and see for yourself.