03 November 2010

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

          These are the sort of weekends where it’s easy to rejoice: there’s an extra day to the weekend because of the holiday; the weather is great; we celebrate 234 years as a country; there’s a great, new parochial vicar in town (ok, you might not think that last part is so great). 
            But, none of those reasons leads Isaiah to write, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her”, not even the fact that there’s a new parochial vicar.  And it isn’t even a patriotic theme so much.  True, Israel, at the time Isaiah was giving this message to the Chosen People, had just regained their own country.  True, Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah.  But Isaiah told the people of Israel to rejoice because of what God had done for them: He had brought them back from exile into their promised home, and granted them prosperity. 
            But the spiritual meaning behind this prophecy, which was only fully understood in Jesus Christ, is not about money, or land, or prosperity in a worldly sense.  And I’m certainly not here to tell you all that if you just go to Mass every week, steer clear of sin, return to the Lord’s mercy in reconciliation when you fall, and give the first fruits of your money and time to the Church that God will make you a millionaire.  Those things are good to do, but that’s not the primary reason for rejoicing, nor is prosperity the sign that God really loves you.  The sign that God loves you is there on the cross.  Jesus’ death and resurrection, His ascension and sending of the Spirit, is all the proof we need that our Heavenly Father loves us.
            But what God does promise to us, if we respond to the graces He gives us in Mass, in the avoidance of sin, in asking for His mercy in reconciliation, and in being generous to the Church and our neighbors is that we will share in the true Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven, where every tear is wiped away, and where we will rejoice eternally in perfect happiness with God our Father, Jesus our Brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate.
            That we are freed from eternal death through Baptism and can share in the heavenly kingdom is the good news that Jesus commissioned the 72 to proclaim to all those they visited.  And it is a message that we, ourselves, are also supposed to carry to those around us through our thoughts, words, and deeds.  In this State, at this time, we need good news.  But really, in every place, at every time, we need the Good News, the Gospel. 
            What the people saw when the welcomed the pairs that made up the 72 disciples were men and women who, while they had no money, no suitcase, no nice shoes, were people of peace, who could themselves give others that same peace, because they were connected to the Prince of Peace, Jesus!  They were able to proclaim that God had visited His people, and that the Scriptures were being fulfilled in their very midst.  They were able to expel demons and heal the sick.  God’s reign was starting to be established in the world in a very real way.
            And the reality is that the same thing is happening today.  All of us, in one way or another, have had to tighten our belts economically.  We have probably cut back on vacations and extra spending.  We have probably stopped buying as many new things, especially when our old stuff is still good.  But, if we have Jesus, and if we are connected to the graces that flow through Him, then we can still rejoice, and we can still give people that peace. 
            And while it is good to rejoice at the results that will sometimes follow our work: converts to the faith, better friends, fewer enemies, freedom from certain sins, and maybe even a level of material prosperity, we should heed the words of Jesus very carefully: “‘do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,’” that is, do not rejoice just at the external manifestations of being a disciples of Jesus that sometimes happen, “‘but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’”
            In this history of this great nation, Catholics have often been the ones who were faced with poverty and persecution.  But, as often as we stayed focused on the Gospel and on following Jesus Christ, we were a good leaven in society.  That remains our challenge today: not to weaken our faith so that we can get along with everybody, but to present the truth in love to all, the truth that allows all people to rejoice in the God who is Truth and Love; not to weaken our moral standards on the dignity of the human person, from natural conception to natural death, no matter how rich or how poor, no matter where they come from; not to put money or worldly fame first, but to be humble and generous to all those in need.  If we do that, then we will be good citizens of our first and most important home, the home prepared for us from the foundation of the world, if we only respond to God’s grace and initiative of love, our heavenly home.  And if we are good citizens of that home, then we will certainly be good citizens of our temporary home here on earth. 
            In honor of our nation’s birthday, I would like to close with part of a prayer from our country’s first native bishop, Bishop John Carroll:
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for [her] Excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the [legislature], for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.