Sunday, October 30, 2011

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 30, 2011 - Cycle A

Thank you, Msgr. Charles Pope!

And to the Author, All in Authority Must Answer – A Meditation on the Gospel of the 31st Sunday of the Year

The Gospel today is familiar to many Catholics from a negative point of view, in that many a Protestant has summoned the verse: Call no one on earth your father, to assail the Catholic practice of calling priests, “Father.” Never mind that the text also says to call no one on earth teacher. Never mind either that the New Testament contains almost 200 uses of the word “father” to refer to earthly male people. Apparently Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with Paul and Peter and Stephen, never got the memo banishing all use of the word in reference to “anyone on earth.” (We will see some of these quotes later). Never mind all that.

Alas, to turn this into a gospel about terminology, is to miss its main point, which is to teach us about authority. And the teaching is both beautiful and essential, especially in modern times when the notion of authority is so misunderstood and frequently maligned.

Before looking at Jesus’ teaching on authority it is good to be clear one point: While it is true you and I are under authority, we also have authority. Whether it is as a parent, at work, as a community leader, Church leader, or just because you’re older; you have authority.

Because we live in a culture that largely despises authority, we tend to think it is always the “other guy” who has authority and needs to be “put in his place.” Maybe it’s that jerk in the corner office, or those nasty politicians, or the boorish and backward pastor. But, look in the mirror, this gospel isn’t just for “them,” it’s for you. So, as we explore this teaching on authority,  remember it applies to you and me just as much as “them.”
Let’s look at the teaching in four stages.

I. The Tenure of Lawful Authority.  Jesus says, The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you but do not follow their example. Jesus teaches the disciples that, for now, they are to remain under the lawful authority of the Scribes and Pharisees. In the future, Jesus will fully send forth his Church and establish the authority of the Apostles themselves. But for now, they are to follow lawful authority, just as Jesus will expect the Church to be under the lawful authority of the Apostles and their successors in the future.
Christians are not encouraged anywhere in scripture to withstand, ridicule, resist or overthrow lawful authority. The human tendency, especially evident in modern times, to be insubordinate and disrespectful of lawful authority is neither encouraged nor supported in the Biblical teaching. Consider some of the following examples:
  1. Rom 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
  2. 1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.
  3. Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good
  4. 1. Tim 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
  5. 1 Peter 2:17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
  6. Matt 22:21 Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
Hence, the Lord Jesus, indeed, Scripture in general, upholds the proper need and place for authority. Modern tendencies to celebrate rebellion and disrespect toward authority are not countenanced by Scripture, no matter how popular and pleasing such negative attitudes may seem.
And these tendencies are exhibited at every level in our western culture. Children are bold and disobedient toward parents, younger people toward elders, subordinates in the workplace toward supervisors, citizens toward elected officials, Catholics toward the hierarchy, and so forth.
One may argue, “Well, the one in charge is a pain, or a bad leader.” Perhaps, but consider what Biblical times featured: from the Scribes and Pharisees, all the way up to Herod and the likes of Nero. Yet still this teaching went forth.  Others may rush to assert, “Authorities need to be corrected.” Yes, at times they do, and a Christian should use means that are both respectful and non-violent.
Vigorous political discourse is surely a feature and a genius of our modern democratic republic. However, too much of the discourse strays into the hateful, and the hyperbolic, toward personal attack and ridicule. Such extremes are unfit discourse for a Christian, who is called to speak the truth with both clarity and charity.
So in setting forth a teaching on authority, the Lord Jesus first establishes that there IS authority and that, other things being equal, lawful authority is to be respected and obeyed. And though, as the Lord clearly indicates, there are times when the example of those in authority should not be imitated (more on that in a minute), their lawful and moral directives are to followed.
Thus, in cases where you are under authority, pray, strive to cooperate, and correct where necessary with reverence. And in cases wherein you have authority, do not be ashamed that you DO have it. Use it well, for the common good, and to provide necessary direction and unity for those under your authority. Remember too, as we shall see, if you have authority, it is to serve.
II. The Tyranny of Arrogant Authority. Jesus does acknowledge the burdensome and insensitive qualities of the leadership of that time. He says, Do not follow their example. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders. But they will not lift a finger to move them.
Here is a sober assessment by Jesus of the problems of leadership in his day. They will have to answer to God for their tenure. And Jesus holds them up as a kind of warning to the future leaders of his Church, who will also have to render an account for their leadership one day. “Do not follow their example,” Jesus warns.
As we shall see, true authority exists to serve, not to crush or merely exhibit its power. It exists to unite people around a common purpose and direct people and resources to a good and focused end. It exists to help others to accomplish their tasks in a unified and directed way. Hence we may ask the following questions of authority:
1. Does it make wings to lift a person up, or is it a deadweight to drag a person down?
2. Does help a person or haunt him?
3. Does it carry him does he have to carry it?
4. Does it bring joy to life or depression
5. Does it unite people around common goals or merely unite them in unproductive anger against authority?
How would those under your authority answer these questions?
III. The Trappings of Self-Centered Authority. Jesus sets forth how the Scribes and Pharisees loved titles, honors, and ostentation: All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces and the salutation, “Rabbi”
And so the Lord distinguishes the following problems:
  1. Their Actions are Acted - Jesus often called them hypocrites, not as derogatory, but as a descriptive. For the word hypocrite, in Greek, means “actor.” Now an actor performs and plays his role only when there is an audience. He does so for money and applause. But when the crowd is gone he does not pay his role.  There would be no point in that, since neither money or applause will result. The point here, in terms of authority, is that some in authority have forgotten the reason they have authority, or the goal to which it is directed. They care only about the praise that may increase their authority or build their ego.
  2. They Parade their Piety – The point here about authority is that the one in authority wants to be noticed as having authority. Rather than pointing to the end to which his authority is directed (in this case, God), some in authority see the acknowledgement of their authority as the proper end and desired goal.
  3. They Hunger for Honor - They seek the front seats, and to be seen as having authority. They take the honor due those in authority personally, as directed to them, rather than to the office they hold.
  4. They Take after Titles – But a title is only good if the one bearing it does not disgrace it. Having a title is not so much an honor as a responsibility.
So, in the end the poor example comes down to the fact that those in authority in Jesus’ time, mistook the “trappings” for personal ends and glory, rather than for the ends to which they were intended: the glory of God, the serving of his people and the common good and unity of all.
But leadership is not about trappings, it is about service and the glory of God.
IV. The Truth of Christian Authority. The text says,  Do not be called teacher (Rabbi) You have but one teacher. Do not be called Father, you have but one Father in heaven..Do not be called master, have but one master the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. Who ever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus emphasizes Three fundamental things here, and I would a fourth.
1. All authority is under the headship of God – In critiquing the use of terms like “teacher,” “master” and “Rabbi,” Jesus is insisting that all teachers and “experts” must first be under the teaching and authority of God. All their teaching and “mastery” of any subject must be in conformity to, and submitted to the revealed truth of God. For someone to be worthy of the title “teacher,” “Rabbi,” or “Master” means that they are first submitted to what God teaches and reveals.
2. All Fatherhood, all headship, is submitted to the Father and Lord of us all and reflects His Fatherhood. No one deserves the title “father” who does not first have God for his Father. In this sense, Jesus is not so much banning a word, as insisting on a conformity to the one and perfect Father of us all. In this sense, St Paul can say, You do not have many fathers, For I became your father in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Cor 4:15). And again, For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted you and charged each of you lead a life worthy of God (1 Thess 2:10).  St Paul takes up this title “Father” with them, only in relation to how he guides them to what the Heavenly and true Father would want.
3. Authority exists for service - Jesus says of those in authority: The greatest among you must be your servant. In other words those who have authority have to serve those under them, not to “lord it over.” Jesus says elsewhere:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10:42ff)
Hence, those who have authority, have it not for their glory, but as a sign of their servitude. The priest who has authority, has it to serve his people in teaching, sanctifying and governing (uniting). The Parent has authority to serve their children, raising them to become the man or woman God intends them to be. The police officer has authority to protect and give order to the people. The teacher has authority in order that she may teach. And so forth. Authority is not for its own sake, it is for the sake of others.
4. Authority is exercised among equals – In the world, authority is equated to power, and is often ascribed to those who gain it because they are smarter, richer, more connected, and so forth. In a way, there is an assumption that “I have authority because I am, some how, better than you.” But among Christians authority is always exercised among equals. For the greatest title one can have is “Child of God.” Adding titles like CEO, President, Grand Knight, Monsignor, Excellency, and so forth, are but mere footnotes. The Pope has authority in the Church, but he is no more baptized than you or I. Please understand, he DOES have authority, and we have an obligation to submit to it. But his greatest title is not “Pope,” or “Supreme Pontiff.” His greatest title is “Child of God.” Authority does not make me greater than you, it makes me your servant. But before God we are all equally his children. This final point is my own addition and I fully open it for critique.

So there it is, a Gospel not about terminology (as in “Father”), but about authority and how to understand it and live it as a Christian. Remember it is not just about “that jerk in the corner office.” It is about you, since you too, have authority. One day we will answer to God about how we have used our authority, whether to build or destroy, enable or disable, inspire or unnecessarily infuriate. We will also render an account for how we have acted toward those in authority. And, no matter the laughter and praise this world gives to disrespect and disobedience, God is neither impressed or pleased. Authority, how we use it, and respect it, is critical to God.

Note the word “Author” in authority. For no authority exists unless it is granted from God (cf Jn 19:11).  And to the Author, all in authority must one day answer.
Here’s one of my favorite hymns: Crown Him with Many Crowns. It is here sung on the 50th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth of England. It is fitting to see those in authority, even if (these days) more ceremonially so, to be seen praising to true King from who all kings, queens and leaders take their authority.

Of this King, Jesus, we can say he is the only King who died for us. And so the second verse of the hymn says, Crown him the Lord of Love, Behold his hands and side. Rich wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified. No angel in the height, can truly bear that sight, so downward bend his wondering eye, at mysteries so bright.
Indeed, For the Son of man did not some to be served, but to serve, and give his life as ransom for many (Mk 10:45)

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 16th, 2011 - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45:1,4-6
Sometimes we forget the God we worship is far greater than we can imagine. And he acts in ways we cannot imagine. The prophet Isaiah reminded his audience of that fact when he spoke of a pagan king who did God’s will.

Psalm 96:1,3-5, 7-10
R. Give the Lord glory and honor.
Psalm 96 is a hymn a praise for the faithful, both Jew and Gentile. The psalm reminds everyone of God’s overwhelming power in creation. Such power deserves praise from all quarters.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Faith can be a journey of struggle, a road of tested priorities. St. Paul recognized the community at Thessalonika as a tested, yet faithful church. They had a reputation of faith because of their endurance in the face of hostility.
(This is the first written document of the whole New Testament.)

Today it is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the periphery of Central Macedonia.

Matthew 22:15-21 
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  
Let's take a little deeper look at this well-known quote!
Notwithstanding the malicious intention the Pharisees had in putting this question to our Lord, they did us all a good turn by getting his answer. That answer is forceful and final. It lays down a norm which solves for all time the problems that can arise from our dual citizenship on this earth.

The Lord is king over all the earth, as we sing in today’s Psalm. Governments rise and fall by His permission, with no authority but that given from above (see John 19:11; Romans 13:1).

In effect, God says to every ruler what he tells King Cyrus in today’s First Reading: “I have called you . . . though you knew me not.” 

The Lord raised up Cyrus to restore the Israelites from exile, and to rebuild Jerusalem (see Ezra 1:1-4). Throughout salvation history, God has used foreign rulers for the sake of His chosen people. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened to reveal God’s power (see Romans 9:17). Invading armies were used to punish Israel’s sins (see 2 Maccabees 6:7-16).

The Roman occupation during Jesus’ time was, in a similar way, a judgment on Israel’s unfaithfulness. Jesus’ famous words in today’s Gospel: “Repay to Caesar” are a pointed reminder of this. And they call us, too, to keep our allegiances straight.

We fulfill our duties to God by being faithful, loyal, active members of the spiritual kingdom, the Church, which Christ established on earth in order to lead us to our eternal kingdom. We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State, by paying all lawful taxes, and by contributing our share, whenever called on, toward the common good. 

In today’s gospel note the two questions: one put to Christ by the Pharisees, and the other by Christ to the Pharisees.

The Pharisees’ question concerns this world alone, while Christ’s has an entirely heavenly and other-worldly sense. Their question derived from profound ignorance and perversity; his stemmed from perfect wisdom and goodness.

The Lord alone is our king. His kingdom is not of this world (see John 18:36) but it begins here in His Church, which tells of His glory among all peoples. Citizens of heaven (see Philippians 3:20), we are called to be a light to the world (see Matthew 5:14) - working in faith, laboring in love, and enduring in hope, as today’s Epistle counsels.

We owe the government a concern for the common good, and obedience to laws - unless they conflict with God’s commandments as interpreted by the Church (see Acts 5:29).

But we owe God everything. The coin bears Caesar’s image. But we bear God’s own image (see Genesis 1:27). We owe Him our very lives - all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, offered as a living sacrifice of love (see Romans 12:1-2).

We should pray for our leaders, that like Cyrus they do God’s will (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2) - until from the rising of the sun to its setting, all humanity knows that Jesus is Lord.

Dr. Scott Hahn
*St. Lorenzo of Brindisi (1559-1619) Opera omnia 8, 335. 336. 339-340. 346
With St. Anthony, St. Bonaventure, and Blessed John Duns Scotus, he is a Doctor of the Franciscan Order. - Catholic Encyclopedia
Cartoon -

*St. Lorenzo of Brindisi (a.k.a. -Lawrence of Brindisi) (1559-1619) was born at Brindisi and educated at Venice. In 1575 he entered with the Capuchins and was sent to Padua to study philosophy and theology. He had a prodigious memory and was said to know the Scriptures by heart in the original. This enabled him to convert many Jews. Raised to a high degree of contemplation himself, he evangelized much of Europe, speaking to the hearts of those who heard him. From 1602 he served a term as minister general of the Capuchins. As chaplain to the imperial troops he led them into battle and to victory against the Turks on two occasions, armed only with a crucifix. He died at Lisbon while on an embassy. His writings include eight volumes of sermons, commentaries on Genesis and Ezekiel, and other didactic or controversial works.  The process of beatification, several times interrupted by various circumstances, was concluded in 1783. The canonization took place on 8 December, 1881.
In 1959 Pope John XXIII added his name to the list of Doctors of the Universal Church.
His Feast Day is July 6. 

The known writings of St. Lorenzo of Brindisi comprise eight volumes of sermons, two didactic treatises on oratory, a commentary on Genesis, another on Ezechiel, and three volumes of religious polemics. Most of his sermons are written in Italian, the other works being in Latin. The three volumes of controversies have notes in Greek and Hebrew.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October 9th, 2011 - 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

Isaiah 25:6-10
The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face;

Psalm 23:1-6
I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

Matthew 22:1-14
The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. . . .

     There are about 77 days left until Christmas.  I am reminded of this not because the secular world has already started its Christmas selling frenzy; they are still too concerned with ghosts and goblins.  Rather, in the last few weeks our Scripture readings at Mass are about the end times.  We have been hearing a lot of parables about working in the vineyard.  

     Last week, we heard in the Gospel, about the tenants who failed to produce a harvest for the Lord.   And the question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.”  

     As you may know, the Church’s liturgical year begins with the First Sunday of Advent and is only about 48 days away.  The first Sunday of Advent will also be the day on which we begin using the new translation of the Mass.  The last Sunday of Ordinary Time is Christ the King Sunday.  As we approach that great solemnity of Christ the King, the Church asks us to meditate upon Judgment Day.  We say in the Creed every Sunday, “That Christ will come to judge the living and the dead.”  

     As St. John Vianney said, “Our home is in heaven, on earth, we are like travelers staying in a hotel.  When one is away, one is always thinking of going home.”  On the day we die, the Lord will come to us and ask us how we have tended His vineyard here on earth.  “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?"  

     We hear in this week’s Gospel, the parable of the wedding feast.  We hear of those who, though invited, refuse to come to the feast and we hear how everyone, whomever the servant finds are invited.  But though many are invited, few are chosen.  We cannot presume that since God loves each of us with unbounded love, it does not matter what we do with our lives.  We must conform our lives to God’s standards rather than to our own standards or the standards of the government.  If we come to the feast not wearing the wedding garment which God has asked us to wear, we shall be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness.   

     The early 20th century English author, G. K. Chesterton has written
“We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has bidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is, that it is the image of Christ in the churches, that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heartbreaking beauty,  his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters.” 

     We all love to hear the Jesus speak the beatitudes, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”  But in the next few verse Jesus also says, “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”  

     When we come before the Lord, will we be wearing His wedding garment of righteousness or the will be clothed in our own self-will.  One of the beauties of the new translation of the Mass is that we are no longer asking God to do our will.  We no longer tell God to “do this” or “give us that”  rather the new language has us humbly begging God to hear our prayers.  

     Now is the time to choose whether we will come to the wedding feast and whether we will wear the wedding garment.  Are we dressed for the feast, clothed in the garment of righteousness (see Revelation 19:8)?  Not all who have been called will be chosen for eternal life, Jesus warns. Let us be sure that we’re living in a manner worthy of the invitation we’ve received (see Ephesians 4:1).
      After our death, we will no longer be able to choose but will have to stand on the decisions we make here on earth.  This the meaning of phrase, “bind his hands and his feet.”  Once we have been thrown into the darkness outside for refusing to wear the wedding Garment of the Lord, we will not be able to free ourselves from the wailing and grinding of teeth.  We are not called to judge who will enter and will be thrown into the darkness.  That is the job of the King, our job as servants of the King is “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike.”  Our job is proclamation of the invitation.  It is Christ the King who will judge those worthy to enter the feast.  So remember, while our life may be compared to an essay test, the final judgment is True or False.

Dr. Scott Hahn
Catholic Homilies

And on the lighter side: 

Agnus Day appears with the permission of

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October 2nd, 2011 - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, October 2nd is also the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels.  Not enough can be said to honor and thank our very own personal angels.  God is so good to show us this special token of His love for us, in giving each of us a unique Angel Guardian in our lives. 

Sunday's Readings:
Isaiah 5:1-7
The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his cherished plant;
he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!

Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
R. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.

Philippians 4:6-9
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 21:33-43 
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit."

In today’s Gospel Jesus returns to the Old Testament symbol of the vineyard to teach about Israel, the Church, and the kingdom of God.

And the symbolism of today’s First Reading and Psalm is readily understood.
God is the owner and the house of Israel is the vineyard. A cherished vine, Israel was plucked from Egypt and transplanted in a fertile land specially spaded and prepared by God, hedged about by the city walls of Jerusalem, watched over by the towering Temple. But the vineyard produced no good grapes for the wine, a symbol for the holy lives God wanted for His people. So God allowed His vineyard to be overrun by foreign invaders, as Isaiah foresees in the First Reading.

Jesus picks up the story where Isaiah leaves off, even using Isaiah’s words to describe the vineyard’s wine press, hedge, and watchtower. Israel’s religious leaders, the tenants in His parable, have learned nothing from Isaiah or Israel’s past. Instead of producing good fruits, they’ve killed the owner’s servants, the prophets sent to gather the harvest of faithful souls.

In a dark foreshadowing of His own crucifixion outside Jerusalem, Jesus says the tenants’ final outrage will be to seize the owner’s son, and to kill him outside the vineyard walls.
For this, the vineyard, which Jesus calls the kingdom of God, will be taken away and given to new tenants - the leaders of the Church, who will produce its fruit.

We are each a vine in the Lord’s vineyard, grafted onto the true vine of Christ (see John 15:1-8), called to bear fruits of the righteousness in Him (see Philippians 1:11), and to be the “first fruits” of a new creation (see James 1:18).

We need to take care that we don’t let ourselves be overgrown with the thorns and briers of worldly anxiety. As today’s Epistle advises, we need to fill our hearts and minds with noble intentions and virtuous deeds, rejoicing always that the Lord is near.

Sources: Scott Hahn, Ph.D.
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