25 August 201921 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
21 Ordinary Time
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
Luke 13, 22-30

Arthur Tonne tells an interesting tale. Most people have seen the famous photo of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. It pictures United States Marines raising the American flag on a hill in bloody Iwo Jima during World War II. Many of us too have stood mesmerized by the equally famous heroic size bronze likeness of the scene sculpted in Washington DC.

What is little known is that the photographer Mr Rosenthal was a convert to the Church from Judaism. For his conversion, he was shunned by fellow Jews for abandoning the faith of his people. But Rosenthal was not intimidated.

He wrote, "The day before we went ashore on Iwo Jima, I attended Mass and received Holy Communion. If a man is genuinely convinced of the truth and still neglects it, he is a traitor and that goes not only for my Jewish friends who do not attend synagogue each Saturday but also for my friends who miss Mass each Sunday."

The Teacher was pulling himself through the towns and villages of Palestine. Busily He was teaching all the time. His destination was Jerusalem. There He would keep His long-planned rendezvous with death. He was asked by someone, "Lord, are those to be saved few in number?"

The exhausted Christ, desperately needing a shower and a cold drink, ignored the query. Oftentimes the question put to Him did not touch on His syllabus. But He took advantage of the well-intentioned question to say in effect, "The door to the kingdom is unlocked. Keep in mind it is not wide, but it freely swings open on well-oiled hinges. Those willing to exert themselves will walk right in. No people at any time need stand outside with their noses pressed against the glass door wistfully looking in."

All of us need a re-introduction to the real Christ. Many of us live in a fantasy world in relation to Him. Today's Gospel is as good a teaching tool as any. He is not the naive individual many of us imagine. He is neither a patsy nor an easy touch. Rather, He is a no-nonsense Man who tells it like it is. This Gospel reveals that His favorite sport is not softball but hard ball. Solemnly I apologize to writers of insipid greeting cards verses for sharing the real Jesus with you.

In very blunt language today, the Nazarene informs us that no one has a lock on Heaven. Rather, it is the payoff for a lifetime of hard labor. What our parents or grandparents may have done for the Christ matters not. Everyone must pay his or her own dues. Why should anyone of us have the bonus without the onus? Even in the spiritual life there is no such thing as a free lunch. We belong to what someone has aptly called the Church of the Narrow Door. Given these ground rules, one can see why the Joe Rosenthals of our culture travel first class with the Teacher.

That dog-eared certificate of Baptism in the tin box under the bed is not necessarily a passport into the next life. At best, it is only the first few pages in a six hundred page autobiography everyone of us is writing each day. After all, almost all of us here did not consciously choose Baptism like Mr Rosenthal. Why then should it give us a guaranteed leg-up on everyone else in the neighborhood?

Those who think, an author suggests, that they have the heavenly seating chart arranged, are in for quite a shock.

One does not need to be a genetic scientist to identify the DNA of today's Gospel. As we are advised, the Christian life is forever a task of putting one foot in front of the other and one hand on top of another. As Will Rogers puts the case, even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if all you do is just sit there.

Some years ago I said a weekday Mass in Rhode Island. Among the worshipers was Felix de Welden. He is the celebrated sculptor responsible for the bronze image of Rosenthal's Iwo Jima picture in Washington, DC. He, like Mr Rosenthal, was just paying his dues. He attends Mass daily.

However, do not grow discouraged as you attempt often with little success to put on Christ. "The only way to fail," says St Teresa of Avila, "is to stop."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
21 Ordinary Time
Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time: Embracing Our Christianity

"Oh, poor us, poor us," they moaned. "This is all so hard," they complained. "We are questioned for our beliefs, and we are often outright persecuted for our faith. Oh, poor us, poor us. We go to the market place and can't buy the best meat because it was part of a pagan sacrifice. Oh, poor us, poor us. Our parents and grandparents were so excited by this new faith, this Christianity, but we are not all that excited. We put up with it though, just in case it is right. But it is such a struggle to be Christians. Oh, poor us, poor us."

The people doing the complaining were those to whom today's second reading was addressed. These were Christians of Hebrew background living throughout the Roman Empire. Their fellow Jews had ostracized them. The pagan Romans were sporadically persecuting them. The original apostles were all dead, most of them killed by the Romans. And it seemed that each new leader of a Church in this or that city, particularly in Rome, were given a death sentence by being made bishop. Eleven of the original twelve were martyred. Ignatius from the second largest city in the Empire, Antioch, would be fed to the beasts in the Coliseum. The first thirty-one Bishops of Rome, the first thirty-one popes, would be put to death. Now there were rumors that Christians were to be persecuted throughout the empire.

The people to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was addressed also complained that they couldn't join in with the festivals of the people of their country. They were told that they couldn't be Christians and live like pagans. So these Hebrews complained.

"Knock it off," says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. "Shore up your drooping arms and firm up your knocking knees." Their body language showed how they felt. "Stop moping around," Hebrews says. "Instead, trust in God. If you are called to be a witness to God with your life, it will unite you closer to Him than you could ever imagine." Only a relative few would become martyrs in that way. Most of them were called to give witness to Christ by the way they lived their lives.

So, would this living of the Christian life be easy? No, nothing worthwhile is easy. Everything of value has its price. In today's Gospel, Jesus called the price the narrow gate. The narrow gate is not the popular gate, but it is the only one that leads to God. Many people choose the wide gate, the way that everyone seems to be going. These are the people who justify their immorality with the "everyone's doing it," mentality. Many people think that they can ignore God throughout their lives, that they can avoid sacrificing for others, that they can live in their selfishness. Simply put, they choose to live like pagans. They assume that God will not reject them when their lives come to an end, but they forget, they have already rejected God. They are not on the inside of the Banquet Hall because they have chosen to be outside the Kingdom of God.

We cannot be the people of the wide gate. We have been given the call, the grace, to enter into God's presence. But the way to get there is not easy. The gate is narrow. It demands sacrifice. It demands saying "No" to our own lower instincts. It demands saying, "No", to the popular but immoral crowd.

It is sad how we recognize the work necessary for the physical necessities of life, but we refuse to recognize the work that is necessary to attain the reason why we were created. We think that the goal of our lives, union with God, should be easy. We recognize the hard work that is necessary for a person to become a lawyer or a doctor. We know that there is no easy button to push in med school or law school. We know that even the most intelligent of our young people have to work extremely hard to receive an academic scholarship. Even in the area of sports we recognize that what might appear easy on the football field during an NFL game on Sunday is the result of months of work in the classroom, in the weight room and on the practice field. What we see on the athletic field is a culmination of lives of hard work. We tell our young athletes, "No pain, no gain." But we think that the maxim only applies to athletes, or scholars. It's deepest application is to Christianity.

We need to embrace our Christianity with enthusiasm. We need to stop complaining about our sacrifices and look to the Cross of Jesus Christ. The book of the cross is the wisdom of the Christian.

We are Catholics. We are Christians in Christianity's purest form. We have purpose and meaning and beauty in our lives. We have Jesus Christ. And He has us. Our arms cannot be drooping. They need to be raised high in praising the One who calls us. Our knees should not be knocking. They need to be high stepping, marching through that narrow gate to our God.

Then, when it comes time for the final Banquet of the Lord, when our lives come to an end, we will find ourselves inside, united to Jesus at the feast of Love that is the Eternal Union with God.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
21 Ordinary Time
To Serve As Christ

Bottom line: To serve as Christ means not just imitating Christ, but that Christ himself is serving through us.

This weekend I am showing the video for the Called to Serve as Christ campaign. It's a major campaign to meet the needs of elderly priests and sisters. As you will hear Archbishop Bishop Sartain explain, the phrase "as Christ" means something more than imitating Christ. It refers to the fact that through faithful Christians Christ serves others.

Last week I asked some parishioners to make phone calls on my behalf. In a sense they phoned as Father Bloom. I was acting through them. How much more does Christ act through us. Christ worked - and continues to work - through our elderly priests and sisters. With that in mind I ask you to give your attention to this video about the Called to Serve as Christ campaign.

That young man, Andrew Scott, explained it well: Just like we take care of our parents so we care for our spiritual mothers and fathers. In coming weeks you will hear more about how you can help. For today I ask you take home this message: Our elderly priests and sisters did God's work when they followed the call to serve as Christ. It's what we heard today in the prophet Isaiah: "I come to gather people of every language; they shall come and see my glory". Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
21 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
21 Ordinary Time
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings today seem to be about salvation and the question of the villager is as relevant today as when it was first posed: Will only a few be saved? And then there is the question behind the question: Will I be saved? Jesus' reply is paradoxical, but we expect no less from him. He says that many will try to enter the door of heaven but will not succeed.

Yet hundreds upon hundreds will come from the four corners of the globe and take their places at the heavenly banquet. His message is that salvation is meant for all; because, as we know, Jesus came to open up the way to salvation for all people, for each and every person he created. But in the parable there is a warning, a severe warning that we cannot presume to be saved.

When we arrive at the gate of heaven the master of the house might say to us: I do not know you. And we might find ourselves pleading that we were good Catholics and did everything prescribed and yet still the master might say: I do not know you. And people from the east and the west and from the north and the south will take their places in the Kingdom ahead of us.

The message is that it is easy to delude ourselves, easy to think that, because we have followed the rules, we have earned our place in heaven. We know intellectually that this could never be the case because we realise that salvation is entirely in the free gift of God. It can never be earned; it can never be presumed.

The key, of course, is in the simple words: I do not know you. It is all about our relationship with God, he wants to know us, he wants to love us. He does know us and he does love us, the life and death of Jesus proves that this is so. But in turn God wants us to know him and love him freely and without compulsion.

Unfortunately, we are poor creatures, we are easily deluded and we are world experts at deluding ourselves. We can convince ourselves that we are doing all the right things; we can convince ourselves that hours spent in prayer and in doing good to others has earned us great credit in heaven and that our place in heaven is already assured.

We completely forget that in comparison to the love God has for us anything we do is a mere nothing. We completely forget that in the great plan of God our piffling plans and projects are of no significance. We completely forget that we cannot earn or bribe our way into heaven by novenas and prayers and penances. What God wants from us is love and for this we need hearts. We need hearts large enough to praise and glorify and bless his holy name.

Hearts full of compassion for others; hearts that beat with passionate love for those nearest to us; hearts that will make enormous sacrifices without a second thought. Hearts that are filled with sorrow for the many sins we have committed, hearts that pour out appeals to God imploring him for mercy.

We can count ourselves among the privileged few. We are so fortunate to have come to knowledge of and believe in Christ and in his Church and to have heard the message of the Gospel in all its fullness.

As members of the Catholic Church we can feel proud to be in direct line with the Church of the Apostles. We know that the Holy Spirit keeps the Church faithful to the Gospel in matters of faith and morals and we feel privileged to be the inheritors of this the richest of all the Christian traditions.

We know that this greatest of all gifts brings with it heavy responsibilities. We know that we must keep faith with Christ and follow the teaching and prescriptions of the Church. We know that we have a duty to bear witness to his name in the world. We know that we have the obligation and the duty to remain faithful to all that has been handed down to us.

But being the recipients of these advantages guarantees us nothing in relation to heaven. Whether we be laity, religious, priests, bishops or popes we have no built-in advantage over anyone else. The biggest sinner could get into heaven far ahead of us if he truly repents.

They way in is to be found only in Christ: I am the way, the truth and the life. He is the way, and it is only through him and with him and in him that we will be saved. And he wants us to be saved. This is why he took the form of a slave and emptied himself and made peace by the blood of his cross. He has poured out his life for us and the invitation to us is to pour out our lives for him and our brothers and sisters in the human family.

We live our lives in imitation of him. We learn from the words and actions of Jesus how to speak and act ourselves. We put his words on our lips, we walk in his footsteps, we touch with his hands. We become so like him that when at that most significant moment of our lives the master opens the door to our knock he does not see us, instead he sees his Son.

We have emptied ourselves of all our egoism, all our pride, all our superiority, all our arrogance and have become humble as Jesus was humble, patient as Jesus was patient, loving as Jesus was loving, compassionate as Jesus was compassionate. But doing what he does we have become like him, become his true witnesses and ambassadors on earth.

Although we cannot earn salvation, although we cannot presume it; we can certainly, and indeed ought to, hope and pray for salvation. Indeed we ought to pray for it every day of our lives for ourselves and for those around us.

We have received already so many wonderful gifts from God, let us pray that he will grant us that one, final and best of all possible gifts—the gift of salvation itself.
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