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In today’s gospel we read:

“Your light must shine before all,

so that they will see the good things

you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

From a book called “Out of the Saltshaker

by Rebecca Pippert, (Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove IL)

comes this true story

of an unusual young man.

John was in his final year of college.

He was a brilliant new Christian

and a bit different from other students.

His entire wardrobe for four years

consisted of a T-shirt, blue jeans

and no shoes.

Across the street from the campus

was a very conservative church,

attended by well-dressed parishioners.

One Sunday,

John padded through the front door.

The service had already begun;

John walked slowly down the aisle,

searching for a seat.

As he neared the front, it became clear

that no empty seat was available.

So John squatted on the floor

in front of the pulpit.

While this was acceptable in a dorm,

it was hardly acceptable in this conservative church.

You could feel the people glare.

Even the pastor stopped preaching,

wondering what to say or do.

Just then, a deacon in his eighties –

dressed in a tailored suit

and using a cane – began to walk

from the back of the church

down to where John was seated on the floor.

All eyes were focused on the deacon.

His cane clicked with each slow step.

He was a dignified man with silver hair,

respected by all.

How could someone like him

understand someone like John?

As the deacon reached the spot

where John sat,

Eeeryone stopped breathing.

What he was about to do

was a thankless job, but it had to be done.

Even the pastor stopped preaching

until the deacon completed his task.

Looking down at John,

the Deacon dropped his cane to the floor.

Then, with great difficulty, he eased down

onto the carpet and sat beside John.

He wanted to make him feel welcome

and not have to worship alone.

When the pastor gained control of himself,

he said to the congregation,

in a voice choked with emotion:

“What I have prepared to preach to you,

you’ll never remember.

But what you just saw,

you’ll never forget.

This story fits in beautifully

with today’s Gospel where Jesus says:

“No one lights a lamp and puts it

under a bowl; instead it is put on

the lamp stand, where it gives light

for everyone in the house.

In the same way your light must shine

before all, so that they will see

the good things you do and

praise your Father in heaven.

Someone has pointed out

that there are three motives why people

do good things – such as the deacon did:

pleasure, practicality or pure love.

Let’s take a look at each:

first, pleasure.

In his famous Christmas Carol,

Charles Dickens describes how

Ebenezer Scrooge responds to people

after his conversion. Dickens says:

He went to church. . .

And patted children on the head

And questioned beggars. . .and found

That everything could yield him pleasure.

He never dreamed. . .that anything. . .

Could yield him so much happiness.”

People have felt the same way when they’ve

volunteered to help out in prisons,

soup kitchens or retirement homes.

And so the first motive why people

do good things is because it makes them

feel good. It brings them pleasure.

The second motive why people

do good things is out of practicality.

A politician once said:

“Love your enemies, because someday

you’ll need them as friends.”

That is clearly a practical motive.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor.

When the Nazi’s came to power,

he was reluctant to speak out at first.

When he did, he was arrested and jailed.

He said in a famous statement:

When the Nazi’s came for the communists,

I didn’t speak out

because I wasn’t a communist.

When they came for the Jews,

I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. . .

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out

because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me. . .

and by that time

there was no one left to speak for me.”

So the second reason for doing good is

practicality: If I want others to help me,

I’ve got to help them.

This brings us to the final reason:

pure love:

the reason the deacon

sat on the floor with the college student.

He probably got no pleasure out of it,

nor was there much John could do for him.

He simply did it because it was right.

He wanted to make John feel welcome

and be treated in a loving way.

People who do good things

usually pass through three stages.

First, there is the fun stage.

That’s when they say, “I love doing this.

Why did I wait so long to get involved?”

Next, there’s the intolerant stage.

That’s when they say,

“Anyone who doesn’t get involved

isn’t really a true Christian.”

Finally, there’s the reality stage.

That’s when they suddenly realize

that their involvement

is only going to make a dent

in the world’s problems.

At this stage, saints are made.

So what motivates people

to do good things

follows a pattern similar to what

is said generally, about commitment.

First, it’s pleasurable.

It makes us feel good.

Second, it’s practical.

If we help others, they’ll help us.

Finally, it’s out of pure love.

It’s why the deacon helped John.

Let’s close with a prayer

attributed to St Ignatius Loyola.

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me

to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except to know

That I am doing your will. Amen.

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This weekend we are called to do two things:
first, to celebrate the glory of the Church
as we ask her prayers for ourselves
on the Feast of All Saints;
and also, to commemorate in a special way
the Souls of the Faithful Departed
as we pray for them.

We pray for them
with the Christian hope
that they may share
in the victory of the Risen Christ.

The Catholic liturgy offers
a glowing testimony to the Christian hope
in a “blessed resurrection”
and to a Christian love
for departed relatives and friends.

And while today’s liturgy may have
an element of sadness in it,
it is not the sadness of those who have no hope,
because it is filled with Faith
in a “blessed resurrection”
and the eternal joy that awaits us all.

Jesus presents himself to us
as the Good Shepherd
who does not want to lose
even one of his sheep,
nor does he spare any pains
to lead them to salvation.

Rather than the end
death is for the Christian,
a door opening into eternity,
a door which admits a soul
to eternal life.

Jesus tells us to be faithful to his teaching
and to wait patiently for his coming.

A black slave wrote a poem
that was later set to music.

The poem concerns
the second coming of Jesus.
It Reads:

“There’s a king and captain high,
and he’s coming by and by,
and he’ll find me hoeing cotton when he comes. . .

“There’s a man they thrust aside,
who was tortured till he died,
and he’ll find me hoeing cotton when he comes. . .

“They’ll be shouting out Hosanna!
to the man that men denied.
and I’ll kneel among my cotton when he comes. . .
Author unknown

The poet says that when Jesus returns,
Jesus will find him working faithfully
and waiting patiently.

This raises an important question.
What constitutes being prepared?

We find the answer in the Sermon on the Mount.
There, Jesus compares the good deeds people do
to oil burning brightly in a lamp.

Jesus says:
“Your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16

This brings us to the practical application
for our daily lives.

In one of his writings,
author Richard Evans spells it out this way.

He says that there are mothers
who plan to enjoy their daughters more.
But they keep putting it off.
There are fathers
who plan to get to know their sons better.
but they keep putting it off.

There are husbands and wives
who plan to spend more time together.
But they keep putting it off.
Then, in a burst of emotion,
Evans says:

“When in the world are we going to live
as if we understood that this is life?
This is our time, our day. . .and it’s passing.”
When are we going to stop putting things off?

This what Jesus had in mind
when he talked about the foolish bridesmaids
being unprepared.

Jesus was warning us
that there are certain things in life
that we must do now.

There are certain things in life
that we can’t put off to the last minute.

The message is an important one.
It’s one that Jesus repeats again and again.
It is one that we need to hear again and again.
It’s one that all of us
are failing to live out in our lives,
to some degree.

It’s the message
that some things can’t be put off
to the last minute.

It’s the message
that we could get caught off guard,
that Jesus may one day say to us,
what he said to the foolish bridesmaids:
“I do not know you.”

This is the message of Jesus.
Happy is the person who takes it to heart.

Let us close with this prayer:
Lord,
help us to stop putting things off.
Help us to realize that certain things in life
can’t be borrowed or bought at the last minute.

Help us realize that this is our time.
This is our day,
and it is passing faster than we can imagine.

Help us take to heart
the words of that black poet:

“There’s a king and captain high,
and he’s coming by and by,
and he’ll find me hoeing cotton when he comes.

You can hear his legions charging
in the regions of the sky,
and he’ll find me hoeing cotton when he comes.

They’ll be shouting out Hosanna!
to the man that men denied,
and I’ll kneel among my cotton when he comes.”

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27th Sunday – year A

The suspension bridge
that links Canada and the United States
by spanning the Niagara River
was built in this way.

First a kite was flown across the river.
Attached to the kite was a piece of string.
Attached to the string was a rope.
And to the rope was attached a steel cable.
The steel cable was then used
to get the rest of the bridge in place.

The story of the Melrose Bridge
is often used to illustrate
how great things can often have humble beginnings.

The parable of the vineyard owner
can be seen as a summary
of our salvation history.

Story telling has been popular
ever since human beings learned
to put words together to form sentences.
Few ancient people were able to read or write.

Whenever they wanted to teach
something important,
they made up a story about it.
This made the teaching
not only easy to learn,
but also easy to remember.

Jesus probably told more stories
than most teachers.
His stories are called parables.
Someone has cleverly described a parable
as a an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

For all practical purposes,
the parables fall into two categories:
Window parables and mirror parables.

A window parable is a simple story
that teaches about God or God’s kingdom.
It is a “verbal window”
through which we can look to get an insight
into God or God’s kingdom.
A window parable often begins with the words
“The kingdom of God is like.”

An example of a window parable
is Jesus’ story of the lost sheep.

It compares
a shepherd’s concern for a lost sheep
to his Father’s concern for a sinner.
The shepherd goes out to search for the stray.
When he finds it,
he doesn’t tie it to a tree and punish it.
He carries it home, lovingly, on his shoulders.
Jesus’ point is that his heavenly Father
treats sinners the same way.

And so window parables are stories
that give us an insight into God or his kingdom.

Mirror parables on the other hand,
are stories that act as “verbal mirrors”.
That is,
they give us an insight into ourselves.

Jesus constructed these parables in such a way
that people in his parable
represented people in his listening audience.
In other words,
people listening to Jesus
were able to see themselves
in one of the characters in the parable.

Today’s parables of the vineyard owner
is a good example of this.
Jesus directed it primarily
to the chief priests and the Pharisees,
that is, the religious leaders of Israel.

Let’s now look more closely at this parable
to see how it served as a mirror
for the chief priests and the Pharisees.
Let’s look at the parable’s cast of characters
and see who Jesus intended them
to represent in real life.

The vineyard owner, of course, is God.
The vineyard, as today’s first reading shows,
is the people of Israel.
The vineyard tenants are the leaders of Israel.

The first group of slaves, sent by the owner,
are the early prophets God sent to Israel.
The owner’s son, who was killed, is Jesus.

The new tenant farmers,
to whom the owner leases the vineyard,
are the apostles of Jesus.
They are the new leaders of God’s people.

The parable’s conclusion,
says, “The chief priests and the Pharisees. . .
knew that [Jesus] was talking about them.”
In other words,
they looked into the mirror parable
and saw themselves.
But instead of changing,
they continued in their wrong ways.

This brings us to an important question.
Did Jesus intend this parable to have meaning
only for the chief priests and the Pharisees?
Not at all.
He intended it to have meaning for us also.
And what does the parable say to us?
I will list just four things.

First, it summarizes
the complete biblical history of salvation,
even to the point of making
clear-cut references to the Old Covenant
and to the New Covenant.
The first leasing of the vineyard
refers to the Old Covenant.
The second leasing of the vineyard
refers to the New Covenant.

Second, the parable affirms
that Jesus is the Son of God.
The last person sent to the tenant farmers
is not another slave.
He is the vineyard owner’s own son.

Third, the parable affirms
that Jesus’ apostles are the new leaders
of God’s people.

And finally, the parable teaches us
about God’s patience with us
and our accountability to God.
The vineyard owner made three efforts
to get the tenant farmers to change their ways.
When he saw more patience was futile,
he passed judgment on the tenants.
He held them accountable for their actions.

It is the same way with God and us.
Our heavenly Father is infinitely patient.
But the time will come
when God’s patience will give way to judgment.
We too, will be held accountable
for our actions.

And so today’s parable was not intended
merely for the chief priests and the Pharisees
of Jesus’ day.
It was intended for us also.

It summarizes the bible history of salvation.
It teaches that Jesus is the Son of God.

It teaches that Jesus’ apostles
are the new leaders of God’s people.

Finally, it teaches us about
God’s great patience toward us,
and our own accountability to God.

Let us close with this prayerful thought,
which is expressed in the lyrics of a song,
written years ago, by Richard Wilson:

“Jesus was the story telling kind.
He painted pictures in the mind.
It was how he showed people,
Like you and me,
the way things were supposed to be.

“He used the sky.
He used the sea.
He used the birds.
He used the tree.
He used whatever he could see.

“Storyteller?
Yes, Jesus was the story telling kind.
He painted pictures in the mind.
It was the way he showed people
like you and me,
the way things were supposed to be.”

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As Christians
we have an obligation
not only to do what is right,
but also to help others
do what is right.

Jesus told his followers:

“You are like salt for all mankind. . .
you are like light for the whole world. . .
your light must shine before people.” Matthew 5:13-16

A successful restaurant woman,
who professed no religious affiliation at all,
said to a priest,
“I don’t want to disillusion you, Father,
but some of the most unethical people
I meet in my work are churchgoing Christians”

The priest replied,
“Well, unfortunately, there are bad Christians,
just as there are bad non-Christians.”

The woman said, “But Father,
aren’t Christians supposed to be special?”

The priest looked sad and said,
“Yes, they are. Yes. They are.”

So how is the ethic of churchgoing Christians
different from that of non-churchgoing Christians?

First, consider these three, true cases,
then I will tell you how the people involved
actually responded.

A ticket seller for an airport limousine service
said to a father,
“Sir, your son looks young for his age.
take a half-fare ticket.
If the limousine driver questions you,
just say the boy’s under twelve.
Save yourself a few bucks!”

If you had been that father,
what would you have said to the ticket seller?

Here is the second case:
A mother noticed that her daughter
had a stolen candy bar,
just after they returned from the grocery store.

If you were that mother,
what would you do?
This is the final case:
Suppose you heard your son’s best friend
say to your son, “If you need any answer
in the math test, just give me a signal.”

If that had been your son,
would you keep on reading the newspaper,
or would you put it down
and have a heart-to-heart talk with the boys?

The solution to all three situations
is found in today’s readings.
All three focus on the mutual obligation
that Christians have toward one another.

The prophet Ezekiel says:
“You shall surely die
if you do not warn the wicked
to turn from their ways.”

In the second reading, Paul says:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

Jesus says in today’s gospel:
“If a brother or sister sins against you,
go and point out their fault.”

So what would be the Christian’s response
to the three cases I gave you?

First,
what would a follower of Jesus say
to the limousine ticket seller
who had said to the father,
“Just tell him your son is under twelve”?

This case really happened in Chicago.
What did the father say?
He told the ticket seller,
“I appreciate where you’re coming from,
but I want my son to be truthful,
even if it seems a disadvantage.”

And what about the mother
who caught her daughter with a stolen candy bar?
This too actually happened.
The newspaper columnist, who reported the story,
said the mother had the child return the candy
and apologize to the store manager.

To the mother’s dismay,
the manager said,
“Oh don’t worry about it.
It’s such a small item.

My employees
steal much more than that from me, every day.”
As the newspaper columnist pointed out,
that’s an incredible reply.

The manager gave the child the impression
that stealing is no big deal
if only a small item is taken.
Stealing is always wrong
no matter the size of the item.

And finally, what about the son and his buddy
who agreed to help him cheat during a math test?

Jerome Weidman,
Author of the book Hand of the Hunter
was involved in such a situation as a boy.

He said about 30 years ago
he was attending school in a big city.
He had a third grade teacher named Mrs O’Neill.

One day she gave her class a test.
When she was grading the papers,
she noticed that 12 boys had given the same
unusual wrong answer to the same question.

The next day she asked the 12 boys
to remain after the bell.
Then, without accusing any of them,
she wrote a quotation on the board.
It read:

“The measure of a man’s real character
is what he would do
if he knew he would never be found out.” T B Macaulay

Jerome Weidman says:
“I don’t know about the other 11 boys.
Speaking for myself, I can say this:
Those words became
the single most important lesson of my life.”

And so we have three different cases
where three different Christians spoke up.
Three Christians heeded Jesus’ instruction
to help their brothers and sisters
live the Christian life.

Three Christians took seriously
God’s word to Ezekiel in today’s first reading:
“If…you do not warn
the evil man to change his ways. . .
I will hold you responsible.”

Three Christians took seriously Paul’s words
to the Romans in today’s second reading:
“If you love someone,
you will never do him wrong.”
And finally, three Christians took seriously
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel:
“If your brother sins against you,
go to him and show him his fault.
But do it privately, just between yourselves.”

“All that is needed for evil to prosper
is for good people to remain silent.”

We are invited to follow
the example of the Christians
in these three stories.

Let us close with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, help us to take to heart your words
to your followers when you said:

“You are like salt for all mankind.
but if salt loses its saltiness,
there’s no way to make it salty again.
It has become worthless,
so it is thrown out and people trample on it.

“You are like light for the whole world.
A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl;
instead he puts it on the lamp stand,
where it gives light for everyone in the house.

“In the same way
your light must shine before people,
so that they will see the good things you do
and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

For as St Paul says:
“You know what sort of times we live in…
it is time to wake up…
we must stop behaving as people of the dark
and be ready to live in the light.” Romans 13:11

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18th Sunday – Year A Homily

Not long ago
a woman interviewed a reporter
from Argentina.
He had been held prisoner
by the military government for six years
without trial.

During this time the young man was tortured
and was subjected to long hours
in solitary confinement.
The interviewer asked him if he was bitter
about his suffering
and the loss of six years of his life.

He surprised her, saying,

“I don’t regard those six years as lost.
I took advantage of them
to strengthen my character
and to deepen my relationship with God.”

The young man’s response illustrates beautifully
what Paul talks about in today’s second reading.
He writes:

“What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution. . .
or peril?”

Then Paul answers his own question, saying:

“Neither death. . . nor powers. . .
nor any other creature
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul’s point is clear.

There’s no prison in the world so strong
that God’s love cannot penetrate it.

There’s no tragedy in life so great
that God’s love cannot transform it
into something good.

There’s no trial in the world that’s so crushing
that God’s love cannot use it
to make us into better persons.

As a matter of fact,
the reverse is more often true.
God uses tragedies and trials in our lives
to prepare us to do things
that we would never otherwise be able to do.
Our heavenly Father
never takes something away from us
unless he intends
to give us something in return.
He never erases something in our lives
unless he intends
to write something more beautiful in its place.

A famous maker of violins
once said that the best wood for violins
comes from the north side of the tree.
The reason is that the wood on that side
has been seasoned by the cold north wind.
And that seasoning gives it a special sound
that no other wood can duplicate.

The same is true of human beings.
Some of the most beautiful music in our world
has come from people who have been seasoned
by suffering, by tragedies, and by trials.

For example,
Handel wrote his famous “Hallelujah Chorus”
when he was poverty-stricken and suffering
from a paralyzed right side and right arm.

Beethoven was the son of an alcoholic father.
He lost his hearing at the age of 28.
And when he conducted his Ninth Symphony,
he couldn’t hear the music as it was played.
Nor could he hear the thunderous applause
that followed the performance.

Or consider the great French painter Millet.
At the time he was painting his Angelus
he wrote,
“We have only enough fuel for a few days.
and they won’t give us any more
unless we can scrape together the money.”

Yet, from hands so cold
that they cold hardly hold the brush
came one of the world’s greatest paintings.

There’s a moving scene
toward the end of the movie Little Big Man.
An elderly Indian, named Old Lodgeskins,
has lost his bodily health
and his eyesight.
As he prepares for death,
he prays to God in words something like this:

“Lord God,
I thank you for giving me life
and for giving me eyes
to see and enjoy your world.
“But most of all, Lord,
I thank you for my sickness and my blindness,
because I have learned ,more from these
than from my health and my sight.”

This brings us back to our opening story
about the young man in the Argentine prison.

He was able to grow in his relationship to God
and as a person.
In spite of an awful situation.
He could do this
because he chose to open his heart to God
and to accept whatever God gave him.

And he did this without growing bitter,
without feeling sorry for himself,
or without complaining.

If God is to use
the trials and tragedies of our lives
to help us grow in our relationship with him
and to help us grow as persons,
we must do what the young man did.
We must open our hearts totally to God.

 

We must do what the Apostles did
in today’s gospel.
We must give Jesus our five loaves and two fish
and let him do with them whatever he will.

And if we do this,
we can be sure of one thing.
He will multiply them
beyond anything we ever imagined possible.

The important thing is the open heart.
The important thing is the trusting heart.
The important thing is the believing heart.
The important thing is the loving heart.

Let’s close with an old poem
by an unknown author.
It’s called “The Folded Page.”

“Up in a quaint old attic,
as the raindrops pattered down,
I sat paging through an old schoolbook –
dusty, tattered, and brown.

“I came to a page that was folded over.
Across it written in childish hand:
‘The teacher says to leave this now,
’tis hard to understand.’

“I unfolded the page and read .
Then I nodded my head and said,
‘The teacher was right –
now I understand .’ “

There are lots of pages
in the book of life
that are hard to understand.
All we can do is fold them down and write,
“The teacher says to leave this now,
’tis hard to understand.”

Then someday – perhaps only in heaven –
we will unfold the pages again,
read them, and say,
“The teacher was right –
now I understand.”

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