Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 2, 2016

First Reading Commentary
This Reading is a reminder that the question which arises in suffering, "Where is God?" is nothing new.  A lot of attention has been given to the darkness that Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced, and that darkness is evidenced not only in this Reading but in many other places of Scripture, most especially in the Book of Psalms.  It's difficult to discern what God is saying to us in the midst of a world of sin, violence and immorality.  In our day of rampant secularism, however, we need to ask ourselves, "Where do I place God in my life?"  Hopefully He is the Center of it.  The darkness that is experienced by saintly individuals like Mother Teresa and John of the Cross intimately connects them with Jesus and His cry of: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"  This type of darkness is shrouded in mystery because no one really has the complete explanation as to why it occurs or why it is necessary.  The darkness we experience as a body of people is our perception that God doesn't seem to manifest Himself in our highly secularized culture.  This type of darkness is perhaps the result of our collective actions, or lack thereof as a society.  Certainly, most of the time our hands seemed tied and we're not quite sure what to do.  But much of the culture today believes that truth comes to us through FOX, CNN and MSNBC.  We live in a culture where prayer is not allowed in schools; bibles are not welcome in the workplace.  Efforts are being made to take the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Ten Commandments are being removed from public offices and buildings.  Souls created by God in the womb are returning to Him quickly because their bodies are being destroyed by abortion.  These are only a few examples and certainly, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are other issues and concerns that weigh heavy on your heart and mind.  All this is occurring and yet we only need to look as far as our wallets and purses to find on our nation's currency the words: "In God We Trust".  Really? 

Every pope of our modern day has spoken about the duty of every Christian to evangelize.  The first step to evangelization, however, is to realize that it can't be done without God.  A gaze at the Cross will be a vivid reminder of our current state of affairs; but more importantly the Cross is where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.  As many homilists have said over the centuries: "Come to the Cross!" 

Our Lord assures Habakkuk that His response to all this folly will surely come.  What is meant by this is speculative but most scholars are inclined to believe that this is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ.  A hint about our Lord's Second Coming in a Reading that was written before His Incarnation is a reassuring sign of hope; regardless of what our human eyes see, our spiritual eyes need to be opened in order to see that our God still has everything under control.  What, then, is our course of action?  The answer is in the final verse by being among the just by remaining faithful.  Faithfulness keeps us in prayer; and prayer, as Padre Pio used to say, opens God's Heart and gives God permission to do with us as He wills.  God's way is the only way.

Second Reading Commentary
"Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands."  Most likely this imposition of hands is the ordination of Timothy.  Notice the qualifications for leadership that Saint Paul expresses here: Love, self-control, and bearing hardships.  This isn't exactly in accordance with what is usually seen by leaders who oppress their people.  When things get a little heated, instead of bearing hardships, these dictatorial-type leaders usually demonstrate that spirit of cowardice and flee. 
Ever notice that following one's own design and turning away from biblical precepts eventually leads to everything going haywire?  God, however, is not just a bunch of rules and regulations; He loves us beyond human understanding.  The rules He has given to us are for our own good. 

The "gift of God" which Saint Paul writes about is grace.  Our Lord supplies us with grace which arms us for what He calls us to do.  He supplies the grace to also bear whatever sufferings may come.  Perhaps a more fulfilling way to express it is to say that in every moment of this life, grace is sufficient.  Unfortunately, fallen humanity doesn't always cooperate with this gift from God.  The gift of grace is difficult to understand because it's not something that is concrete or physical; but grace is a gift that is always ready for use.  In the case of ordination, grace is, as one anonymous writer puts it, the supernatural fitness received for the worthy exercise of the sacred ministry.  And borrowing this definition for a more generic use, it can be said that grace is the supernatural fitness received for the worthy exercise of living a holy life.

Gospel Commentary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that faith is an entirely free gift from God but we can lose this priceless gift.  To live, grow and persevere in faith until the end, we must nourish it with the Word of God (cf. CCC 162). 

Why does Jesus use the example of a mustard seed?  Saint John Chrysostom explains: "Christ compares faith to a grain of mustard seed because, though the grain is small, it is nevertheless stronger than most herbs."  Mulberry trees, once they start dropping berries, are very messy.  Life can be messy; there are many things to contend with.  In Saint Matthew's Gospel the mulberry tree is replaced with a mountain.  A mountain can be translated to mean a large obstacle.  "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed," you will never be overwhelmed by any obstacles.  If you have faith, then you already know that God's judgment will come as He assures Habakkuk of this in the First Reading.  And if you have faith in that, then what must follow is trust in God's time for this to occur. 
Not included in this Gospel, just before these verses, Jesus instructs His apostles about forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn't always as easy for us as it is for God and it may be the reason that prompted the apostles to ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Very strictly or severely speaking, the point of the parable is to show that we are the unprofitable servants.  There's really nothing we can do or offer to God that is worthy of the eternal reward that awaits us.  The Master, our Creator has the right to assign us to any task He wishes.  We belong entirely to Him.  He is the Master of our gifts and talents.  We do, however, have free will which means the choice could be made to abuse or distort the gifts He has given us.  Even though He is our Creator and Lord, He does not interfere with our liberty. 
Saint Augustine taught that if our Lord produces us in holy desires, if He works us in meritorious actions, gives us virtuous inclinations and supernatural gifts, He sets to our account the good use we make of them; and in crowning our merits, He crowns His own gifts.  Dom Augustin Calmet adds: "Though we are unprofitable to Him, our serving Him is not unprofitable to us; for He is pleased to give, by His grace, a value to our good works.  Without His assistance, we can neither undertake nor finish anything to please Him."  Our faith, then, is a complete trust in His design for our life. 
How many actually believe that if we commanded a tree to be uprooted it would actually obey that command before our very eyes?  Probably no one or maybe very few!  Regardless of the size of the seed of one's faith, what plagues humanity is the seed of doubt that is planted within us as a result of original sin.  Without that seed of doubt, what Jesus says about the tree obeying us is most likely literally true.  Scripture offers a very short prayer to deal with doubt: "I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).