Homily for September 20

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

(I preached this homily at several Masses, including one at which we
honored couples celebrating wedding anniversaries, so the audio 
includes a reference to that occasion.)

Who would be the person in your life,
either now or maybe some time ago,
who would be the person in your life
who best fits the description
we find in the Letter of James?

Who’s the person in your life who is, or who was:
gentle, not rough
peaceable, not irksome,  
compliant, not cantankerous,
merciful, not resentful,
constant, not fickle,
sincere, not deceptive
a source of goodness, not of harm?

There’s only one thing better than having such a person in your life
and that’s being such a person in the lives of others.

And that’s precisely the message James offers in this passage.
And James doesn’t fail to point out
that such gifts are not naturally ours to give and receive
but rather are cultivated and harvested when, with God’s help,
we engage the conflicts within us,
the inner wars of our desires, needs and self-interest,
in our own hearts,
and allow the wisdom of God’s grace to bring order to our chaos
and peace to our passions.

And how does that happen?

The process is so simple we may have totally missed it
when Jesus answered that question in today’s gospel.
The peace we ultimately long for comes
when we put others, not ourselves, first.

As Pope Francis travels this week in Cuba and in the U.S.,
I believe it’s safe to predict that this sentiment
will be at the heart of all his homilies, speeches and messages:
“If you wish to be first,
you shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

And you don’t have to think much longer than a few minutes
to see how clearly that sentiment goes against the grain
of so many things our culture, economy and democracy hold dear.

Whatever you may think about Pope Francis
- and to be sure, he is loved by many but certainly not by all –
whatever your thoughts about him you cannot deny
how seriously he takes a scripture like today’s gospel.

Francis is convinced in his heart of hearts
- that the suffering of the Cross is the path to peace,
- that the mercy of the Cross is meant for all and in a special way
intended for those who are most easily and frequently cast aside,
- and that we who call ourselves Christian, each one of us,
is called to nothing less than self-giving love of Jesus.

Does that mean each of us looks to be crucified?
But it does mean that I look this week – even today –
to how I can be in the lives of others
the gentle, peaceable, compliant, merciful, constant,
sincere, good person
that I hope and pray others might be in my life.

And that begins simply, with each of us looking for ways
to put others needs ahead of our own,
to serve others before serving ourselves,
to welcome into our lives, in Christ’s name,
especially those who are unwelcome in so many placesa.

Easy? No.
Doable? Yes.
A step at a time, a deed at a time, a day at a time…

And right here at this table,
in the shadow of the altar of the Cross,
we will be nourished for becoming just such persons
when we receive the life and grace of Jesus
in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist.

May the mystery we celebrate and receive
make us strong for serving the needs of others
ahead of our own – this week – and even this day:
one step, one deed, one day at a time.


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