20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The prophet Isiah lived in the 8th Century B. C., or about 800 years before Christ. Nearly 3,000 years ago he’s writing about racism. He writes that “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” will be brought to the holy mountain. He says, speaking for the Lord, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

 

Remember, the Jewish people didn’t play well with others. Foreigners were the enemy. But here’s Isiah telling the Jewish people that foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will enter the heavenly kingdom. This was pretty radical stuff and you can bet that a lot of people didn’t like it.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel, where a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to have pity on her and to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her. Again, the Jews and the Gentiles hated each other. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Send this foreigner away. She’s bothering us.”

 

What Jesus does next is surprising. He tells the woman that He’s been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Do you think maybe He’s trying to teach the disciples a lesson? Maybe He wants them to see for themselves how wrong they are. He even calls the woman a “dog”. But this woman is no dummy. She says that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.

Finally, Jesus praises the woman for her faith and heals her daughter.

 

Then we have our second reading where Saint Paul is writing to the Romans who are gentiles. Keep in mind that on most Sundays, our readings aren’t in chronological order. The first reading is usually from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then we have the Gospel which usually falls between the other two readings in time.

 

Because the Gospel is Jesus’ words, it deserves the place of prominence as the last of the three readings. It’s like when you go to a concert, the headline act comes on last. The opening acts get the audience ready for what’s to come. It’s not a great analogy, but I hope you get the idea.

 

Anyway, Paul’s job is to convert them to the gentile Romans to the new Christian faith. He tells them, “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them…..For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Like Isaiah, Paul is making a pretty radical statement. Again, the Jews and the gentiles hated each other. But here’s this new religion claiming that they’re all equal in God’s eyes.

 

See, racism isn’t new. Over the centuries, Jews have hated gentiles, then Muslims. There’s centuries-old animosity between the English and the Irish. And of course, today there’s the issue of black and white Americans.

 

The people who started this church were the victims of discrimination. When they came up the Mississippi River they weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis. Like the other immigrants, they were forced to locate outside the city limits. When word got out that the Bohemians were going to build this beautiful church, there were a lot of people who thought they couldn’t do it. Face it, a lot of people hoped they would fail. Who did these Bohunks think they were, anyway?

 

When my Irish ancestors arrived in America they were faced with help wanted signs that said, “No Irishmen need apply.” Newspaper editorial cartoons depicting Irish as monkeys were common. There’s even a term for anti-Irish, Hibernophobia. Here in Saint Louis, in 1854, the year our church was founded, there were anti-Irish riots.

 

You may not be aware of it, but there are people who hate us because we’re Catholic. Because Saint Louis is a fairly Catholic town, after all it was named after a Catholic saint, we don’t see as much of it as you might in other places, but believe me it’s there. I was shocked by some of the literature that was handed out here during Pope John Paul’s visit. It was pretty bad. Even our local media have an anti-Catholic bias that’s hard to overlook. You may not realize it, but every one of us has suffered some form of discrimination because of our faith.

 

We all have prejudices, some of us more than others, but we all have them. It’s only human nature for us to want to be around people like ourselves. But, that’s no excuse for hating someone just because they look different than we do, because they worship differently than we do, or because they have different political opinions than we do. There’s just too much hate in the world.

 

Muslims and Jews hate each other. Blacks and whites hate each other. Democrats hate Republicans and vice versa, so much so that nothing ever gets done.

 

You’ve probably figured out by now that what I’m leading up to is the situation in Ferguson. I have no idea what happened in the confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him. Nobody knows except the people actually involved. We have to trust the investigators who are trying to figure it all out.

 

What we do know is that there’s a tremendous amount of racial tension in Saint Louis and all over America. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse. The thing is, the government isn’t going to solve the problem. Maybe it can’t be solved considering that Isaiah wrote about it 3,000 years ago. But God calls us to love one another. That doesn’t mean that we have to hang out with people who make us uncomfortable, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be so antagonistic to each other.

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the people who’ve been trying to diffuse the situation in North County are ministers; black ministers, white ministers, Catholics and protestants, including our own Archbishop Carlson. With the exception of a few misguided souls who think that they’re above the law and entitled to just take the things that they want, nobody wants to see people get hurt. Nobody wants to see violence in the streets. People in North County, and all over the country for that matter, just want to live their lives in peace.

 

Jesus used the Canaananite woman to show the disciples how wrong they were to dismiss her just because she was different from them. Isiah said that the kingdom of heaven was for all. Saint Paul risked his life to take the new faith to the gentiles, even though he was Jewish himself. God is love. He doesn’t want to see His creation destroy itself with hate.

 

So, what can we do? The biggest thing we can do is to pray. We should pray for those who are victims of discrimination, whether it’s racial, religious, or philosophical. Churches all over the area have been holding special prayer services during the last few days. And, guess what? It’s working. Things are calming down. The violence has subsided. But until every one of us, black, white, or whatever, starts looking at others as God’s creatures, there will always be an undercurrent of hate and distrust.

 

We should also pray that God opens our own hearts to those who are different from us. Of course we have to use common sense and be vigilant for our own safety, but we have to accept the fact that just because someone looks different from us, it doesn’t mean they’re a danger. We all want the same things; peace, safety, a loving family, food on the table and a roof over our heads. We all want to live in a world where violence is a thing of the past. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. But I can sure pray for it and work for it. So can you.

PRAY FOR PEACE! 

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Faith vs. Works

“Catholics don’t think Jesus’ death was enough.  They think you have to do good works to get into heaven.”

That’s just plain silly.  Of course Jesus’ death was and is enough!  The thing is that we don’t believe in just giving lip service to our faith.  Our protestant brothers and sisters believe in something called “sola fide“, which is Latin for “by faith alone”.  (Strange that protestants have a belief that’s described by a Latin phrase, but that’s a topic for another day.)  We Catholics just don’t think it’s OK to say “I believe in Jesus” and then go about our business any old way we please.  Satan believes in Jesus.  He doesn’t agree with Him, but he believes in Him.  Satan knows that Jesus is the Son of God, but trust me, you won’t run into Beelzebub  when you arrive in paradise.

Remember when Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me”?  He wanted us to not just say we love Him, but to show it in our daily lives.  He often told sinners to “go and sin no more”.  He clearly expects something from us.  Salvation is a process, not a single event.

One of my favorite New Testament writers is Saint James.  On this subject he writes:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  jSo also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.  (James 2: 14)

James lays it out pretty clearly.  Faith without works is dead.  Paul writes to the Philippians ,

“So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  (Phil 2:12)

A teacher of mine, when I was in formation put it this way.  When someone gives us a gift (which salvation is) you want to reciprocate.  But what do you give to a Son of God who has everything?  He gave us the answer Himself.  “Whatever you do the the least of my brothers you do for me.”

On a personal note, I was raised in the Baptist Church.  In my late teens I answered an altar call and stood in front of the congregation to declare my belief in Jesus Christ.  This is called “being saved” or being “born again”.  Then I was baptized.  My place in heaven was secure.

But I noticed that the Baptists had so many rules.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the Catholic Church has nothing on the Baptists when it came to rules.  Every sermon (and we went to Sunday school on Sunday morning, then to services, then we were back again on Sunday evening and Wednesday evening for more.), every sermon was full of hell fire and brimstone and thou shalt nots.  Besides the Ten Commandments we were told not to drink, not to smoke, not to dance, and lots of other things.  I was confused.  If I was “saved” why did I have to live such a spartan lifestyle.

Lucky for me I met and married a good Catholic girl and the rest is history.  (BTW, today is her birthday.  Happy Birthday, honey!)

So, no, we don’t believe we can buy our way into heaven and we don’t believe we can add anything to the price Jesus paid for us.  But we do believe that we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  In this holy season of Lent, we’re called to do something extra.  We’re expected to help those less fortunate (not just in Lent but all year ’round).  That’s the Catholic way of life.

Woe to Me if I Don’t Preach the Gospel

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it?  Woe to me.  According to the dictionary, woe means : grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.  When I was ordained, the Archbishop had me put my hand on the book and proclaimed that I was now a herald of the Gospel, but he didn’t say anything about grievous distress, affliction, or trouble if I didn’t preach.  But here it is, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  It must be true.

I know some of you probably think “whoa”, as in stop, when I start to talk up here.  But I have no choice.  It says right here that I have to preach.  But we also have the famous quote from Saint Francis, a deacon by the way, speaking to his monks.  He told them to always preach the Gospel and if necessary to use words.  Saint Francis doesn’t trump Saint Paul, but he has a point.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Paul wasn’t just speaking to deacons and priests.  His letter was to everyone in the church at Corinth.  He’s calling on all of us to preach the Gospel, not just those of us who’ve been called to Holy Orders.  When you look at it that way, Francis’ words make perfect sense.

We preach the Gospel every time we we interact with another human being.  At least we’re supposed to.  Our actions speak louder than words when we help someone who’s in trouble; when we give to charity; in all the little things we do every day.

Remember what Paul said, woe to us if we don’t preach the Gospel.