Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's Wrong with the World

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
A hundred years ago, a major newspaper in England asked several well-known people to give a response to the question: “What’s wrong with the world?” As you could imagine, everyone had an opinion, often a long and complicated opinion, placing the blame on any number of people or institutions. But one man gave a very simple, two word response. The writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton said, in response to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” – “I am.” On the one hand, we could say that Chesterton was just acknowledging what we should all acknowledge – that we are sinners, and that even the best of us make bad choices. The world we live in is not perfect, and will never be perfect, because it is inhabited exclusively of people who are sinners. Only when Christ conquers sin – only when the world is remade at the end of time – will everything be as it should be. Chesterton’s humanity – just the same as yours or mine – means that this world is not perfect.

But there’s another way of looking at this question and response, and St. Paul can help us. He writes to the Philippians: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. … humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests but also for those of others.” (Phil. 2.2-4) So we look at the question again: What’s wrong with the world – I am, because I am selfish. What’s wrong with the world – I am, because I think more about what’s good for me than what’s good for the person down the street. What’s wrong with the world – I am, because I am not part of a we. Our world can never be perfect as long as it’s made up of sinful people, but it can be better – and St. Paul suggests that the way to make it better is to make the world a community rather than a population of individuals. The human person is both sacred and social – we are both made in God’s image and made for community. The way to make this world a better place is to get to the point where we are all thinking of the common good, what’s best for humanity and each of its members, not just what’s best for me.

For the next forty days or so, it will be almost impossible to escape talk of the economy, the election, and the issues that face our country. And all of these discussion really boil down to trying to figure out what’s wrong with our world. The challenge of our faith – as St. Paul reminds us today – is to do everything we do with “the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2.5). And a major part of that attitude is to look at our world with a communal lens rather and a mirror that simply reflects my image onto everyone else. What’s wrong with the world? I am. But how can the world be better – by regarding others as more important than me.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

All is Fair with God's Grace

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Note: The times in this homily were changed based on the time of the Mass. The times included below are for the 11:00 am Sunday Mass.

Six days, twenty-one hours, and 50 minutes.

That’s how long it’s been since my house, and many of the houses in my neighborhood, last had power. Six days, twenty-one hours, and 50 minutes – and we’re still waiting. And yet there are other houses, not to far away, that got their power back on Monday on Tuesday this past week. And some places never lost power – this church building and our parish school and offices never lost power, even in the midst of last Sunday’s wind storms. But for many of my neighbors and I, it’s been Six days, twenty-one hours, and about 51 minutes and we’re still waiting. It’s not fair.

I, for one, can certainly empathize with the vineyard workers in today’s parable; the ones who got their early in the morning and worked all day, only to receive the same pay as others who had only worked for an hour. It’s not fair – it’s not fair that someone else gets paid the same as me for doing a lot less work; it’s not fair for people right down the road to have electricity and not me; it’s not fair. But from God’s perspective, fairness is not the be-all and end-all virtue. Seeing everything played out fairly is not what leads to happiness, either for us or for the people around us. The point of the parable of the vineyard workers is that God’s generosity extends to everyone. It may not be fair in our eyes, but God’s goodness goes beyond what is fair. If we hope to receive God’s grace, then we have to be ready to accept the fact that the same grace will be offered to everyone else. If we’re ready to acknowledge God’s forgiveness, then we have to be able to recognize God’s forgiveness for everyone, even the people we don’t think deserve to be forgiven.

It might not be fair, it might not make sense – to our minds, at least. But as Isaiah reminds us, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55.8). God doesn’t operate by looking around to see who most deserves his love, who has fairly won his gift of grace. No, God blindly bestows his grace on everyone out of unbounded generosity. But in order to see God’s grace, we do have to work – remember, everyone in the vineyard who received pay did work. We do have to work with the grace that is given to us, we do have to “conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ,” (Philippians 1.27a), as St. Paul tells us. God’s gifts are freely given, but we have to do something with them.

Six days, twenty-one hours, and now about 55 minutes. It may not be fair, but I’m just thankful that there is electricity to be restored, and I'm thankful that there is always God’s grace to be received.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Cross as Vocation

Homily for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Year A
You see it everywhere – on walls and hillsides, at the tops of buildings, in houses, in bedrooms, even as graffiti; you can see it hanging on chains around people’s necks, or on rings, or as earrings. And, of course, you see it in churches. The cross is as universal a symbol as you can get, and its meaning can be as diverse as the number of places it hangs. For some, the cross is a symbol of our salvation. For others, it is a reminder of a cruel form of capital punishment. Some people see the cross and immediately think of love or new life, while others only see suffering and death. Of course, the cross is all these things – that is exactly what makes it such a powerful symbol, its ability to mean many different things all at once.

This weekend, here in our parish and in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, we are beginning a Parish Vocation Cross Initiative as part of the celebrations of the 175th Anniversary of the founding of our diocese. Each weekend over the next year, an individual or family in our parish will receive a cross to take with them for the week as a reminder to pray for vocations – vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but also an awareness of the vocations to married life and single life. The cross will become the focus of prayer each day during the week that someone has our Parish Vocations Cross. Then, the next weekend, they will pass that cross along to someone else to spend a week in prayer for vocations.

Vocations and the cross – an unlikely combination, perhaps, but a perfect combination. St. Paul makes the connection for us. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul talks about the death of Jesus on the cross as an emptying – Jesus loves us so much that he completely emptied himself by accepting death on a cross. He accepted this suffering and humiliation not for himself, but for us – everything Jesus was about while on this earth, from his birth to his ascension, was to empty himself so that we could be filled with life. His death on the cross and his victory in resurrection changed nothing for him – but it changed everything for us. The cross is the perfect example of what it means to love another person more than yourself. And that is really what a vocation is all about, too.

A vocation to married life means that you love your spouse and children more than yourself – you want them to be happy, you want them to have a fulfilled life. The same thing is true for the priesthood or religious life – my goal as a priest is bring God’s love to the people I am called to serve. I want you to be able to find God, I want you have a fulfilled life. Of course, we don’t always do that perfectly – no matter what vocation we follow – but we try. Living your life following a vocation means that you try to make everything you do focus not on yourself but on someone else. A vocation, lived well, is selfless – it is focused outward – it is just like Jesus on the cross, dying not for his own sake, but for us. Vocations and the cross – an unlikely combination, perhaps, but perfect examples of selfless love.