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Fourteen Sunday in Ordinary Time (2)
The United States of America will be 246 years old on July 4. That’s a long time for a nation to remain free. But, when you look at our history in the context of world history America is just a CHILD among the nations. Egypt, China, Japan, Rome, Greece all make America’s history seem so short. Consider what a brief time we’ve really been here as a nation: When Thomas Jefferson died, Abraham Lincoln was a young man of 17. When Lincoln was assassinated, Woodrow Wilson was a boy of 8. By the time Woodrow Wilson died Ronald Reagan was a boy of 12.
There you have it. The lives of four men can take you all the way back to the beginning of our country, 246 years ago. We are so young. And yet we stand tall among these nations because of the principles on which we were established: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Thus begins the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate today. And do not let anyone fool you. Freedom ought and need be celebrated. So many churches and ministers today loathe patriotism in the pulpit. I am not one of those. I celebrate today with you the freedoms which God has blessed this great nations of ours, especially since so many of us have paid the price for it in some degree. Now I cannot tell you whether God has blessed us with liberty and therefore we are free or we have wisely and simply built our liberty based on biblical principles and thus we are free. In any case our freedom is from God.
Now let me temper our celebrations with a caution: With freedom comes great responsibility. We are not free to live excessive lives. We are not set at liberty to pursue selfish ends. Our independence should not make us infidels. As Paul so eloquently put it: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” This was my topic last week and since the second reading is from the same work, the subject continues,.
What is true for the church is true for the nation: Liberty demands civility. Freedom requires righteous behavior. This July 4th let’s celebrate Freedom and Civility.
First, let’s celebrate liberty. The Apostle Paul was a champion of liberty. He traveled throughout the Roman Empire starting churches. The Galatian church is no exception. In fact it might be the most important for it is there in the middle of the Empire that his message of Christian freedom was vigorously opposed.
Here is what happened: During Paul’s missionary journeys he founded several churches in Asia Minor. What is today the country of Turkey. These converts to Christianity, some of them Jews living in that area and others Gentiles, accepted the Gospel as Paul preached it.
There were some Christian Jews who believed that Paul went too far and they came in behind Paul and told these new converts that while Paul was right in what he said he was only half right. They would have to observe certain ceremonial practices of the Old Testament which, they claimed, were still binding upon the church, especially the act of circumcision. Paul’s response to these men, which we shall call Judaizers, is the book of Galatians.
Paul’s terse warnings un the chapter prior to this to his followers has resounded throughout the years: It is I, Paul, who am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.b
You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
By the way there is a bit of biting satire here in this admonishment. The word separated is used here by Paul to mean separating oneself from the Gospel but it is also the word used to describe act of circumcision. In other words, if they observe circumcision they also circumcise themselves from Christ. Paul is not kidding. He is serious about freedom.
The framers of our great nation were just as serious about their political and religious freedom. In fact they made little distinction between them. That is why the Declaration of Independence says that liberty is a right endowed not by nature but by God himself. We have been serious about liberty ever since. Patrick Henry said, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” Thomas Jefferson with a bit of humor and absolute seriousness said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And it need not be pointed out that that the First Amendment to the Constitution is congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.
We are serious about freedom. Why? Because we are called to be free. Those are Paul’s words and they are deeply theological but they are the bedrock on which our country is founded. God gives humans freedom. We are made in his image free to live and think and act and in Christ he gives us freedom from the Law, the grace to be at liberty from our sins.
Now let us be sober for a minute. There always has been and always will be those who are opposed to freedom. Paul faced it in the actions of the Judaizers. Lincoln fought it on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Martin Luther King encountered it in the streets of Memphis. And John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address warned the enemies of liberty: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of Liberty.”
On no greater stage is this now being played out than on the streets of Baghdad and the mountains of Afghanistan and the plains of Syria. The people of these three countries are being handed a wonderful gift: A chance at democratic sovereignty. You and I will never know whether the blood and treasure we have spilled in that eastern desert will have been worth it. For, I maintain that it will take 100 years to really see the fruits of this effort. Even in Afganistan seeds were planted that the Taliban can never crush I pray that the calmer heads will prevail in the end and democracy wins. If it does then we have witnessed a world revolution.
But it never ceases to amaze me why some people prefer tyranny, dictatorship, and control over democracy and freedom. I believe it’s because there are three kind of people in this world. The first two are related: there are those who have a need to control and then are those who have the need to be controlled. Then there is the third kind. He is the person who is free and insist that others are likewise.
So let’s celebrate our liberty but let us not forget to celebrate also our responsibility to civility. I chose these two words liberty and civility this morning because they recall the old days of our nation. I could have just as simply used the synonyms Freedom and Responsibility, but I want to draw your attention to our foundation. Our freedoms bare a heavy burden. Great thinkers recognize this. See if you know who said the following:
“The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights and privileges as American citizens. The time is come – it is now – when we ought to hear about the duties and responsibilities of our citizenship. America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.” – Peter Marshall
“Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” – Pope Saint John Paul II
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” – John Adams
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Finally, let’s quote Paul. The Apostle understood the inseparable link between liberty and civility. After warning the Galatians not to go back to circumcision and the Law of Moses he then answers his critics who were charging him with teaching the Gentiles to indulge themselves in whatever behavior they liked. Look at chapter 5 verse 13: “For you were called for freedom, brothers.j But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve* one another through love.
” Use your freedom to serve. In other words: Freedom ought to be used to pursue good.
After Paul’s long defense of freedom in Christ he launches into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The message here is clear. Liberty and civility are two parts of a whole. Alexander Fraser Tytler lived at the end of the eighteenth century, but his book The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic sends a chilling warning today. Tytler found that ancient democracies waned under the selfishness of human hearts. He wrote: “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence”:
From bondage to spiritual faith;
from spiritual faith to great courage;
from courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
from abundance to selfishness;
from selfishness to complacency;
from complacency to apathy;
from apathy to dependency;
from dependency back to bondage.
You know as well as I that our nation has lost, in the last 20 years, a great deal of its gentleness, it’s kindness, it’s civility. Children are increasingly belligerent and adults more coarse than before. Let’s break the cycle. Don’t let the abundance we have acquired through liberty make us selfish. Celebrate with me today not just our liberties but our heritage of civility. Amen.
ChristianGlobe Network, Liberty And Civility, by Brett Blair
Fourteen Sunday in Ordinary Time (1)
Good morning, boys and girls! Today I am going to ask you to do something a little bit different. Since it’s really hard for me to say hello to everyone in this congregation, I am going to ask you to help me. I want each of you to take a partner and go down into the congregation and just say hello and introduce yourself to the people who are sitting there. (Give them time to choose a partner, then encourage them to go out with you and say hello. After about three minutes, call them together again.) Now, wasn’t that a nice thing to do? Thank you, boys and girls. You met some very nice people, didn’t you? After Mass you can introduce your family to the new people
Well, in today’s gospel story Jesus told 72 of his disciples to do just what I asked you to do, but there was a big difference! The disciples had to go out into strange towns and visit strange houses. At each house they were supposed to say, “Peace be with this house.” Why do you suppose Jesus wanted the disciples to do this? (Let them answer.) That’s right. This was the beginning of their work as followers of Jesus. They were spreading the good news about him. What do we call people who do that? (Let them answer.) Yes, they are called missionaries. Do we have missionaries today? (Let them answer.) We sure do. Many Christian people still travel to distant lands or even work here in this country to spread the gospel of Jesus.
In today’s gospel story Jesus was helping the disciples get some practice in doing this kind of work. If I asked you to go out and greet the people each Sunday, you would get really good at it after a while because you would be practicing how to do it each week. Then, if some day I couldn’t be here after Mass at the back door, you would be able to do it without me, and that would really be good. Jesus wanted the disciples to be ready to do this work without him because he would soon be leaving them. As we know, the Apostles did a very good job being missionaries after Jesus rose from the dead and went back to heaven. This story helps us to remember that we need to keep practicing being Christians — so that when your minister or your Sunday school teacher or your parents aren’t around, you will be able to be Christians on your own. And who is always there to help you — even though you don’t see him? That’s right. The Spirit is always there. You can count on that! God bless you all. Amen.
When you were a kid what superpower did you want to have? Flying like Superman? Scaling tall buildings like Spiderman? What superpower did you want to have and how did you want to use it?
I thought about that recently when I saw a question which was posted on the website forum Reddit. The question was, “If you could have a useless superpower, what would it be?” Did you catch that–a useless superpower?
Here’s one response that came in to that question: “The ability to win at rock- paper-scissors every single time.” Well, I guess that certainly is a useless superpower.
I think the ARMY gave me a superpower that might be useful and that is I can sleep any place any time. But the useless superpower I would like but in the Army it is not useless is to be able to write in the active voice.
Here are some other responses: “Whenever I pick up a sock, the sock next to it would become the matching one.” O. K.
One guy responded: “The power to be able to slam a revolving door.”
Another said, “When I catch a cold, the ability to know exactly where and when I got it.” I guess that would be for the purpose of retribution.
And finally, “Always knowing when to use a semicolon.” That must be for an English major.
What about you? What useless superpower would you wish for? It’s a fun question to consider because we all want to believe that we have untapped powers within us, and that we would have the courage to use those untapped powers if a need ever arises.
In our Gospel passage today, Jesus sent out seventy-two of his followers as an advance team to prepare the people for his ministry. And he gave them power—super power, really—to heal diseases and cast out demons. He also gave them authority to preach about the kingdom of God. And when the disciples got back, they felt like superheroes! But their super powers were not useless. Far from it. They had healed people. They had cast out demons. And they had accomplished it all through Jesus’ name! Jesus was pleased with their work, but he didn’t want them to get big heads because of it. “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you,” he said, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
There is a story of a woodpecker who tapped with his beak against the trunk of a tree just as lightning struck the tree and destroyed it. He flew away all excited, saying, “I didn’t know there was so much power in my beak!” “When we bring the Gospel [to people] there is a danger that we will think or say, ‘I have done a good job.’ Don’t be a silly woodpecker,”. “Know where your strength comes from. It is only the Holy Spirit who can make a message good and fruitful.” (1)
The disciples were rejoicing in the things they had done. Jesus wanted them to understand that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that was accomplishing these things through them.
“May I never boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” St Paul reminds us when we think it is us it isn’t Galatians 6:14.
This is quite a change. St. Paul is speaking positively about boasting. I thought boasting was bad. I thought we were never supposed to boast. I mean, I know that last year I was conceited and that this year I’m perfect, but I also know that it is wrong to boast about it. Is there ever a time when boasting is OK, even good?
Well, boasting is certainly bad when it is the self-centered, egomaniacal ranting of a tortured soul who bases his or her value on the opinions of others. But boasting is not bad when it reflects its original meaning of rejoicing in something that is good.
St. Paul had reason to boast. And it was not over what he did for the Lord. Paul was a little powerhouse who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to tens of thousands of people throughout the Roman Empire. But Paul would not boast in this, or in anything he did. He would not rejoice in his accomplishments. But Paul did boast. He boasted in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He rejoiced that Jesus Christ died for him. He rejoiced that because of the cross, he was a new creation. He rejoiced, boasted, in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we join St. Paul and rejoice in the cross of Jesus Christ. We boast with Paul that we have been saved from sin, saved from a meaningless, empty life, saved from running towards nothing, saved from being an insignificant blip on the radar of humanity. We join Paul in rejoicing that we have become a New Creation.
What does that mean, “new creation?” That means exactly what it sounds like. We have become new beings. We are not just physical. Due to the cross of Jesus Christ, we are spiritual. We have received His Life within us. We can live forever if we live in Him. We rejoice that we are not “of this world.” We are holy. We are set apart for God. That is what it means to be holy.
We have been branded by Christ. The cattlemen of the Old West would brand their steer to declare their ownership. We have been branded by Christ. He has declared His ownership of us. We have been branded with the Cross. This happens when we are baptized and marked with the sign of the cross and in Confirmation when the Bishop “seals” us.
Paul says that he bore in his body the marks of Jesus Christ. It is tempting to dismiss this as referring to Paul having the stigmata. There is no record of this. Other Christians would have spoken about Paul bleeding from his hands and feet and side as St. Francis, St. Padre Pio and so many others would do. What Paul is referring to is this: he bore the ownership of Christ in His Life. He lived the sacrificial love of the Cross. He lived for the kingdom, suffered for the Kingdom and would die for the Kingdom. The only thing that Paul would boast about is the love of Jesus Christ, the sacrificial love of the Lord, the Cross.
We also bear on our bodies the marks of Jesus Christ. We have been branded by the Lord. That brand is our sharing in His sacrificial love. We boast in the Cross of the Lord. We find joy in sharing the sacrificial love of the Lord. So we are mocked for not joining immorality, we are kept down in work or school for not seeking advancement by stepping on others. It hurts when people laugh at us for being committed Catholics. But we still rejoice. We rejoice in the opportunities we have to love as Jesus loved. We boast in the cross of the Lord.
We rejoice in that we can be Christ for others. St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
How great is that! We are a new creation. We are Christ for others. We are Christians. We are Catholics. It is as Catholics that we receive the strength to boast in the Cross, the strength to bear the wounds of the Lord.
Isaiah 66 says, “Rejoice in the Lord, Jerusalem” and then uses the imagery of the people nursing at a mother’s abundant breasts. This is a prophesy of the Catholic Church. The Church is our mother, feeding us, sustaining us. It is through the Church that we receive the sacraments. It is through the Church that we receive the Word. It is through the Church that we serve Christ’s Presence in the poor and suffering of the world. And there is plenty to go around. Mother Church’s breasts are abundant. We receive communion weekly, if not daily. We need the Eucharist to be able to boast in the Lord. We receive penance regularly, We need the sacrament of compassion to fend off the attacks of the devil. Your marriages are not just celebrated in the Church. They are unions your lives to the Love of Christ so that husbands and wives can be Christ for each other. My priesthood is not my job. It is who I am. Priests are transformed with an indelible mark to be alter Christi’s so the people of God can be united to Christ through Word and Sacrament. We have so much. We have been given so much. And the Lord wants to give us so much more.
It is not easy going out. Sometimes we sing a hymn written by a Catholic priest that is probably more popular in Protestant Churches than in Catholic. “Faith of our Fathers” is a Catholic hymn, written in 1849by Frederick William Faber in memory of the Catholic martyrs from the time of the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Faber wrote two versions of the hymn: with seven stanzas for Ireland and with four for England. The Irish version was sung at hurling matches until the 1960s.
Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword:
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Our Fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our Fathers! Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to thee:
And through the truth that comes from God
England shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our Fathers! we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife:
And preach thee too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life:
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
In countries outside of England, the words “Our land” have been substituted for “England”.
Faith of Our Fathers
Many Protestant churches and hymnals use an adapted version with a third verse altered to remove Marian references:
Faith of our Fathers! we will strive
To win all nations unto thee,
And through the truth that comes from God,
Mankind shall then be truly free.
JESUS STILL CALLS US TO REACH OUT TO THE WORLD. Jesus never meant for his body to become an exclusive club centered only on its own needs.
There was an interesting story in Readers Digest sometime back by Elise Miller Davis titled, “When Someone Is Drowning, It’s No Time To Teach Him How to Swim.” Ms. Davis tells of sitting near a swimming pool one day and hearing a commotion. A head was bobbing in and out of the deepest water. Ms. Davis saw a man rush to the edge of the pool and heard him yell, “Hold your breath! Hold your breath!” Then a young lady joined him, screaming, “Turn on your back and float!” Their voices caught the attention of the lifeguard. Like a flash, he ran the length of the pool, jumped in, and pulled the man in trouble to safety. Later, the lifeguard said to Ms. Davis, “Why in the name of heaven didn’t somebody holler that one word–Help? When someone’s drowning, it’s no time to teach him how to swim.”
Do you understand that there are people in our community who are barely staying afloat? Families are disintegrating, young people are becoming chemically addicted, middle-aged people are facing life-crises that would blow your minds. Just because the strategy of going out two-by-two door-to-door is outmoded doesn’t mean the need has disappeared.
Not many churches are sending people two-by-two into the community any more. Maybe we should. You are never too old to minister. I was a chaplain in a convent that when the elderly sisters retired from ministry, they would go to the train stations and just sit and talk to people. They had a directory of where people could get help and a cell phone. (They used to have a bag of dimes) but their most effective ministry was just to listen .But, if we do, we’ve got to examine our motives. We don’t go out simply to build a bigger church or to impress people with our goodness. We go out because there are people out there who are in great need. We go out not as people who feel superior to the world, but as caring people who identify with them in their hurt and their need. And we go out with the hope and the realization that when we minister to the least and the lowest, sometimes we encounter Christ–and that, dear friends, will save our souls.