Sunday, September 20, 2020

Of Location, Life & Love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 144(145):2-3,8-9,17-18; Philippians 1:20-24,27; Matthew 20:1-16

Picture: cc Caitee Smith

My dear friends, do you know how deep the sea is? It depends, of course, on one’s location. For example, according to Wikipedia, the deepest place in the oceans is about 11,000 metres deep. That’s 2,000 metres more than the height of Mount Everest. Which is very deep. On the other hand, if I were to go to the beach, and walk a few steps into the water, that’s not deep at all. But location is not the only factor. As you know, climate change is causing sea-levels to rise all over the world. And scientists tell us that climate change is caused mainly by human activities. So the distance between the surface of the sea and the ocean-floor depends not only on our location, but also on how we choose to live.

The same can be said about the distance mentioned in our Mass readings today: the distance between the ways of God and human ways. Like the depth of the sea, this too depends on one’s location. In the first reading, the wicked person is asked to abandon his way, to leave his own evil location, in order to move toward God. For the heavens are as high above earth as God’s ways are above the ways of the wicked.

And if wickedness is where the distance between God and humanity is greatest, then righteousness is where the distance is smallest. And no one is more righteous than Christ Jesus. For we believe that, in Christ, God and humanity unite. In Christ, the greatness of God, which cannot be measured, takes on human flesh. In Christ, we see in human form the loving God who is at once both just in all his ways, and compassionate to all his creatures.

Isn’t this why we gather for the Eucharist? We believe that here, around the Table of the Lord, we are brought to that privileged place where humanity coincides with God, where earth enjoys intimate contact with heaven, where the Lord truly comes close to all who call on him from their hearts.

Even so, the gospel reminds us how important it is that we understand this Eucharistic location correctly. It is not just about being in church. For all the workers in the parable also experienced a change in location. In response to the landowner’s call, they moved away from the market place in order to work in the vineyard. And yet, those hired first couldn’t help feeling envious of those who came later but received the same wage. Why? Isn’t it because, despite spending a whole day in the vineyard, these early birds had still not yet given up the mindset of the market place?

Which goes to show that the Eucharist is not only about what happens to us when we gather. It is also about how we live after we disperse. It is about following what St Paul says in the second reading. Choosing, as individuals and as a community, to live in such a way that Christ will be glorified in our bodies. For example, by treating the vulnerable with compassion, and by paying workers a just wage. 

Sisters and brothers, if it is true that, like the depth of the sea, our distance from God depends on where we are and how we live, then what must we do to keep drawing closer to God today?

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Heart Care

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 94(95):1-2,6-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Picture: cc Injurymap

My dear friends, have you ever considered how amazing the human heart is? As you know, the heart is responsible for circulating life-giving blood around the body. And, in order to do this, a healthy heart has to be both flexible and tough. It has to be flexible enough to receive blood, but also tough enough to keep pumping blood all over the body, all the time.

It’s helpful to keep this in mind, as we meditate on our readings today. For just as the human body requires a constant flow of blood to survive, so too does the Church, the Body of Christ, live by the circulation of love. As the second reading tells us, love… is the answer to every one of the commandments. Love is what the Body of Christ receives from God, circulates among all its members, and then shares with the rest of the world. Isn’t this what we believe happens when we gather for the Eucharist? Here, at the Table of Word and Sacrament, we receive God’s life-giving love, share it among ourselves, and then go forth to convey it to others.

But blood, as you know, doesn’t just bring life to the body in the form of oxygen. Blood also removes death in the form of carbon dioxide. Similarly, our readings speak of the need for us to love one another, not just by encouraging those who do right, but also by correcting those of who do wrong. In the first reading, God reminds the prophet of his duty to warn the wicked, to call the wrongdoer to repentance. And, in the gospel, Jesus suggests steps that a community can take to correct its own wayward members.

To do this is, of course, not easy at all. It is tough. It’s tough enough to challenge the misdeeds even of members of our own family, let alone those of others. Isn’t this why, around the world, our Church has suffered, not just from the terrible effects of the abuse of children, but also from our own failure to confront this evil, our misguided attempts to cover it up?

Even so, love requires more than toughness alone. For example, although many have expressed praise and support for all that Pope Francis has been doing and teaching, there are also a good number of Catholics, including prominent Church leaders, who oppose and seek to undermine him. While such acts may be signs of toughness, we may perhaps wonder to what extent they are true expressions of love.

At the end of the gospel reading, Jesus says, where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them. The important words here are in my name. They suggest that, before we venture to correct others, we need to develop that flexibility that enables us to question whether we are truly acting in conformity with the Lord’s life and teachings. What we say and do should actually reflect the will of God, and not just the prejudice of those who are resistant to life-giving change, people who stubbornly refuse to repent.

Sisters and brothers, if it is true that the Body of Christ functions much like a human heart, then what must we do to keep cultivating both the flexibility and toughness that are needed to keep God’s love circulating in our world today?