Monday, September 22, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 28, 2014

First Reading Commentary
We are “children” of God and the words “not fair” are likely to be very familiar words to those of us who are parents.  Young children say it frequently.  But this Reading has nothing to do with who has more presents under the Christmas tree or who gets to stay up later on a school night.  This Reading is about sin in the worst degree -- mortal sin.  And the consequence of mortal sin is separation from God or spiritual death. 

As Catholics, Confession is how we are once again reconciled to God.  That sacrament is how we preserve our life, turn away from sin and do “what is right and just”. 

Consider the love and mercy our Lord has for us: Since God is Perfection, and therefore cannot be in error, He still listens to our complaints, and because He is God, knowing that we are wrong, He, nevertheless, became Man and took all our faults upon Himself, our sentence upon Himself, in order that we may spend eternity with Him.  Who still wants to say, “The Lord’s way is not fair?”

Second Reading Commentary
Although a shorter version of this Reading is permissible, the beauty of the longer version is that it explains why we need to avoid selfishness and conduct ourselves in love, mercy, compassion and put the needs of others before our own. 

As we read on in the second half of this Reading, which is excluded in the shorter version, we learn that loving us and humbly putting us before Himself is exactly what Jesus did; and following in His Footsteps is how we ideally live our lives.  To read that Jesus “emptied Himself” means that He made Himself of no account whatsoever; it is a fulfillment of the psalmist’s words: “I am a worm, and no man, the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people” (Psalm 21 [22]:7).  Of course, the love we share, unlike Christ’s love, has its limitations and conditions. 

Our hearts would implode if we fully understood the Love that compels our Lord’s actions described here in this letter from Saint Paul.  At His Name alone “every knee should bend” which was prophesied by Isaiah: “Every knee shall be bowed to Me” (Isaiah 45:24)

The Creator of all that is known and unknown joined the ranks of humanity, mere specs of dust in this vast universe, subjecting Himself to our lower nature and becoming a willing Victim for that fallen nature.  The reason He loves us so much will likely never be fully comprehended in this life.  Contemplate how close our Savior surely keeps us to His Heart. Unfortunately, our lack of fully understanding God’s love for us will for this lifespan cause us to fall short in expressing our gratitude to God for saving us.  Jesus does teach us, however, what it is we must strive for with the help of His grace: “Be perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  

Gospel Commentary
“What is your opinion?” is a dangerous question when it comes to revealed truth.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn from this world (cf. CCC 2779). 

God the Son revealed to us God the Father when He taught us how to pray.  God the Father revealed Jesus as His Son at His baptism by John, and also at the Transfiguration.  It was also at Christ’s baptism that God the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. 

According to “Status of Global Mission, 2008” there are about 39,000 Christian denominations.  This hardly seeks to comply with Christ’s prayer: “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name whom You have given Me: that they may be one, as We also are” (John 17:11). 

The United States Catholic Bishops as well as other members of the clergy have stood up to defend and clarify Church teaching because of the erroneous interpretations of it that have come forth from some of our politicians and the secular media. 

In the parable that Jesus presents to us in this Gospel, the first son tells his father that he will not work in the vineyard but later changes his mind and ends up laboring in the vineyard.  In our own faith many might humorously refer to this as good, old fashioned Catholic guilt.  The other son, however, agrees to work in the vineyard but doesn’t show up.  He verbally indicated it was a worthy task but had second thoughts.  Again, using our own faith, this appears to be what is commonly known as cafeteria Catholicism -- picking and choosing what is worthy of being believed or not believed about the faith. 

You may recall in the Gospel three weeks ago that Jesus identified the Church as the final authority, having the power to bind and loose.  This is revealed truth.  It’s right there in the pages of Scripture.  Cafeteria Catholicism is caused by what the Catechism defines as false images drawn from this world.  It’s no secret that within the Church there are ordained members whose behavior has been considerably less than Christ-like; and unfortunately this also includes some of the hierarchy.  It’s easy, then, for a rational human being to hypothesize that if morally ignoble activity is occurring within the Church, then what Christ said about the Church must not be true or what He said was badly translated.  And if what He said isn’t true or misunderstood then the question that naturally follows is: What else isn’t true?  And then one starts to develop his/her own ideas about what is true and what is false and suddenly another among the faithful becomes a cafeteria Catholic.  This is dangerous and conforms to the explanation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about moral relativism.  Picking and choosing what is worthy of belief is a blueprint for moral relativism -- becoming one’s own god or pope.  

What appears to be a somewhat unpracticed teaching among the members of the Church today is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Strangely enough, statistically there are Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence.  What are those false images drawn from this world that are punching holes into the faith of God’s people?  There are many answers but certainly at the top of the list is rampant secularism, corruption within the Church, desensitization to immorality, and even natural disasters can lead to questioning God’s love for us.  This is a trap that is fallen into when one allows the world to dictate his/her faith or lack of it.  All of these examples and more lead to a question that has no absolute discernible answer: How could a loving God allow these things to happen? 

Getting back to revealed truth, Sacred Scripture has words pertinent to this topic worthy of further reflection: “Woe to the world because of scandals.  For it is necessary that scandals come” (Matthew 18:7).  “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen.  Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place” (Matthew 24:6-7).  “Many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evil doing, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).  “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12:13).  “Be sober and vigilant.  Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). 

These are only some examples; there are plenty more.  But after reflecting on what Scripture reveals, feelings of God abandoning us or not existing at all because of the condition of the world should be lessened as well as doubts about what the Church teaches.  Outside of Scripture, the Catechism and the writings of the Fathers expound abundantly on the teachings of the Church, much of which can be accessed via the internet. 

Some of the hard sayings from Jesus Himself as well as from others under the guidance of the Holy Spirit may not be easy to accept, but they are, nevertheless, the truth.  As we live and work together in these trying times, comfort can be found in the fact that God is true to what He has revealed; and His Truth is eternal.  And faithfulness to Him promises everlasting joy and peace. 

Nothing is greater than love, for God is Love.  But when love is exposed to a broken people and a fallen world, love can often be an excruciating ordeal as we all have experienced by such occurrences as the death of loved ones, physical health scares either personal or when loved ones are afflicted, and other personal or relational tragedies.  But Love Himself became Man and made Himself vulnerable to a fallen world by becoming a visible Icon on a Cross graphically exhibiting the encounter between love and brokenness.  But Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us during his apostolic journey to Lourdes, France of what the Cross represents: “Il nous dit que, dans le monde, il y a un amour plus fort que la mort, plus fort que nos faiblesses et nos péchés” – “It tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins” (Messe De La Fête de l'Exaltation de la Sainte Croix -- Dimanche 14 Septembre 2008).  Thus, it is our Savior’s love that can lift us up and give us peace during the grieving processes that are necessary when trying to pick up the pieces of brokenness.