28th Sunday of the Year — October l0th, 1971 – CNR
On such a gloomy day, on which even preachers–at least this one–don’t feel a great deal of energy, it is something of a comfort to hear the first lines of the second reading: “Remember that Jesus Christ, son of David, was raised from the dead. This is the gospel that 1 preach.” Short and sweet. Forgive me if I am not quite that short: the Irish in me rebels.
The NT gospel is a message of liberation. And yet Paul immediately adds to this statement of its essential content: “In preaching this gospel, I suffer as a criminal, even to the point of being thrown into chains–but there is no chaining the word of God:” The liberating gospel has led to Paul’s imprisonment, and much of the paradox of the Christian’s condition is there expressed.
For the saving power revealed in the resurrection is a liberation from the common ways of understanding and living human life; it is an inversion of value-scales, so that what once seemed to be power and wisdom is disclosed to be weakness and folly. But preaching what one knows now to be real power and wisdom challenges the prevailing wisdom and soon meets the resistance of those for whom brute power and manipulative reason are the sum-total of human life together. Life from and because of death, resurrection from a grave is too revolutionary a faith for men to accept easily, whether singly or in community.
It is well for us to reflect on this. We live in a society in which Christian values are not taken for granted, except largely for the sake of votes on election day. Brute force characterizes our involvement in Vietnam, constitutes the logic of our international policies. Violence is the new wisdom of social change. “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Politics is not the work of a concerned and discerning wisdom, but a matter often of manipulation and sophisticated deception, to make us think we want what they want us to want.
If that is not unfair, it should not be difficult for us to admit that members of our faith find themselves where Paul was when he wrote the letter we have heard–in jail. They ought to be challenges for us, perhaps to reconsider what they have done, but certainly for us to take responsibility for the society in which we live, and to take that responsibility as Christians, as the “new men” of the Gospel, who know the sources of true life, who have experienced the power that can draw life out of death, wisdom out of folly, strength out of weakness. If we are willing to assume that responsibility, we can be sure that the gospel of the resurrection will once more be what it was when Paul preached it: a message of liberation.
28th Sunday of the Year – October 13, 1974 – C.N.R
Today’s Gospel presents us with something of a problem. Jesus himself sends the lepers off to the priests and then is annoyed that nine of them continued on their way, with only one of them, and a Samaritan at that, returning to give thanks. The meaning is perhaps to be found in the fact that this man alone understood the real meaning of his cure–that in Jesus the end of the old order had come, and that to praise and thank God now means to return and throw himself at the feet of Jesus. And that is why it is the faith of the man that Jesus praised in the last line of the story.
The Gospel so understood directs our attention to Jesus Christ himself, which is also the special concern of the reading we have heard from St. Paul. The passage seems to be almost a summary of the Gospel message, which Paul wishes his legate to keep especially in mind: “Remember that Jesus Christ, son of David, was raised from the dead. This is the gospel I preach. …The saying is worthy of trust: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; If we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him.” They are the words which have become familiar to us all in one of the more successful of the new hymns in our worship, which we will sing again today.
It may seem superfluous to remark that we are here dealing with the center of our faith, with the core of our Christian existence. What else, after all, draws us together here? On what other grounds have we staked our lives? By what other standard do we at least claim to lead them? But centers have a way of being taken for granted, and it is possible for us, like the nine other lepers, to neglect that our first and greatest praise and thanksgiving of God focuses on this “gift of God” (Jn 6:10), in giving whom he has given us all things with him (Rom 8:32).
We have, each of us, our many and diverse reasons for thanksgiving to God, and part of our self-knowledge before God should come from a positive effort (sort of a parallel to a general examination of conscience) to trace, acknowledge and give thanks for the moments, persons, events in whom and in which he has touched our lives. And in such an effort, we will discover how little we know of our God and how far from him we would stand but for Jesus Christ. We would not know him as Father, his Father and ours; we would not know him as gracious; we would not know him as forgiving or as comforting or as sustaining. And were it not for Jesus Christ and the love with which he surrendered himself for us, we would still be in our sins, “strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). And what would there be of what we call generally “the Christian life”, had we not been called together and joined to Jesus Christ as his Body, which is the Church?
The first and the last duty of the Christian is to give thanks, which is, of course, why the Eucharist stands at the center of our lives. And today we might simply stop to attend to what each week, perhaps each day, we do when we gather here: to bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every blessing of his Spirit (Eph 1:3).
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 10, 2010 – St. John’s
Only St. Luke records the story we have just heard, and it is the second time that a Samaritan is pointed to by Jesus as deserving of special praise. A few weeks ago, we were reminded of the good Samaritan who stopped and aided the robbed and wounded man after a priest and a Levite had passed him by. Today it is a Samaritan again, a foreigner (literally, “man of a different race”), who alone of the ten lepers healed returns and gives glory to God while he falls at Jesus’ feet in gratitude. All were healed of their leprosy, but only the Samaritan heard also that his faith has saved him, the outer cleansing thus shown to be symbolic of an inner healing.
We may use the occasion to think about gratitude, and I’ll start with a personal note. My niece lives not far from my brother and me and brings her boys with her, one four years old, the other two. She is trying, of course, to teach them manners. They are not simply to demand something, but to say “Please, may I have”; and, on the other hand, they are to say “Thank you” whenever something is given to them or done for them. Good habits for them to learn, I’m sure we all agree. (I once tried to teach it to a little neighbor; when he demanded something, I said, “What’s the magic word?”, and he replied: “Open sesame?”)
But are the lessons simply a matter of good manners, of politeness? Isn’t there something deeper behind them? Don’t they rest upon a whole way of looking at the world and at our place within it? Why should we say “Please”? Well, what does it mean? It means something like: “Would you be so kind, so agreeable, as to…” The usage points to elements of graciousness, of kindness, in family or in society. It is an acknowledgment that much, perhaps most, of what is of value in our social ties derives from attitudes and actions that are not required, not owed to us, but that are the free gifts of others to us. Our inter-relationships, in families, of course, but also in larger communities and societies, aren’t built only on justice, aren’t simply a matter of rights and obligations, but rest also on the freely given affections and generosity of others. We see this by its opposite, when we run into people whose first thought is always themselves, numero uno, who think the world owes them a living, who take things for granted, who think to say “Please” or “Thank you” is unnecessary, even humiliating.
Let’s think for a moment about that phrase: taking something for granted. In one sense it means that you assume everyone agrees about something: I take it for granted that the sun rises in the east. But there is another popular sense of the phrase: it means to presume something, to count on something, as when we might say of someone: “He takes his father’s generosity for granted.” But in this case, doesn’t the phrase really mean the opposite of what it says: “He takes his father’s generosity for granted” means that he does not take it for granted, doesn’t take it to be a gift. He may think it’s something owed to him, something he has a right to, something he’s earned. In any case, “gift” isn’t part of his vocabulary.
But it is part of our Christian vocabulary. The first article of our creed speaks of the God who has created all that is. God did not have to create; to create was his own free decision, and all that exists is as much a work of art as Michelangelo’s Pietà or a sonnet of Shakespeare or a symphony of Beethoven. God did not create for his own sake, in order to have or to be more; he created us so that there could be other spirits, endowed with intelligence and freedom, who might know the joy of understanding and the ecstasy of love. God created out of pure generosity, and all that is, including us ourselves, is nothing but gift.
We might say that God gave us existence and life, but the sentence is not quite right, is it? It’s not as if we first were somehow and that to us God then gave us existence and life. No, that we exist at all, that we live at all, is pure gift. And creation is not something that happened way back when, perhaps with the “Big Bang” that got things started. No, creation happens, is happening, at this very moment: that I am, that you are, that I am speaking, that you are attentive, all that makes this moment in this place and time, all of it is God’s gift now. The breath we are breathing, the thought we are thinking, the emotion we are feeling, the words we are speaking or hearing–all of this is the gift of God now. At this moment we are because God wishes us to be.
To these gifts we must add all those that have come to us through Jesus Christ our Lord: the knowledge of God’s love for us, of his forgiveness of our sins of forgetfulness and ingratitude; the joy and peace of his holy Spirit within us; the fellowship, the communion, among us that come from our unity of faith, hope and love; the hope of a life beyond the grave; –all this is gift, gift after gift, grace after grace, God’s graciousness never old, never weary, never exhausted.
“What do you have that you have not received?” St. Paul once asked the Corinthians; “and if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7) Gratitude should be the first instinct of a Christian heart, the bedrock on which we build the edifice of our thoughts and dreams, desires and loves, attitudes and behavior, decisions and actions. Gratitude is the only appropriate response to a universe defined and constituted as gift. In a moment I will invite you to join me: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and we will agree that it is right and fitting that we do so. Today, remembering the grateful Samaritan, let us enter more fully than ever into this holy eucharist–this Holy Thanksgiving.