Sunday, October 23, 2016

All We Have Done

I preached this in the parishes in Lyon Mountain and Ellenburg, as their pastor (Fr. Tom Higman) is here to preach a Parish Mission for the Jubilee of Mercy.  Please pray for its success!

 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

A parishioner came up to me Friday morning and said, “Father, I now know for certain who’s the bravest person in the entire world.”  I knew he was leading me on, but I nonetheless took the bait and asked, “Who is that?”  He answered, “It’s Cardinal Dolan of New York.  Last evening, he was the only thing sitting between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton…”

This has been quite a campaign season, hasn’t it?  No only does it get longer every time we do this, but it’s been so terribly negative.  The two mainline candidates for the White House have said so many harsh things about each other—as well as about others who disagree with their policies or positions. 

As troubling as that is, however, what should trouble us even more than how they speak about one another is how they speak about themselves.  Now, running for any public office obviously requires somebody to speak well of him- or herself.  If you don’t believe that you’re fit for office yourself, then why should anybody else give you their vote?  But the candidates this year carry on like they’re self-made people.  Their qualifications, their many achievements and accomplishments—they’d have us believe they’re singlehandedly responsible for every one of these.  I haven’t really heard any talk from them about their parents, or their teachers, or the person who gave them their first job, or folks who inspire them or whom they admire.  I’m just waiting for one of them to claim to have given birth to him- or herself!

Which brings us to the parable Jesus tells in this Sunday’s gospel—that of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.  The tax collector stands boldly up front, listing his many religious credentials—his fasting, his tithes, how he’s better than the rest of sinful humanity.  Notice that St. Luke tells us that he even “spoke this prayer to himself,” rather than to the Lord.  In effect, he’s telling God, “Thanks for the offer of your help, but I’ve got this.  No need to worry about me.  I’ll make my own way to heaven.  See you when I get there.”  Meanwhile, the tax collector kneels humbly in the back, pouring out his heart: “Lord, I’m nothing before you.  I’ve made of mess of my life.  Only with your help could I do anything worthwhile.  Have mercy on this sinner!”

See the difference?  One think’s he’s self-made; the other knows he’s God-made.

You’ll see us priests often walking around with our breviaries—our book of daily prayers.  As we repeat the cycle every four weeks, on certain Tuesday mornings we pray words from the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah that echo in my mind time and time again: “It is you, Lord, who have accomplished all we have done.”  It’s the whole people of Israel who are praying these words.  They’ve been speaking to God about their nation: about it’s firm foundations, about the strength of Jerusalem, about the way they live in justice and peace.  But they’re not celebrating any of this as their own achievement.   “It is you, Lord, who have accomplished all we have done.” 

And that same prayer should constantly be on all of our lips!

This is World Mission Sunday.  It’s easy on a day like today to think about the men and women who bravely carry the Gospel to foreign lands—and rightly we’re called upon to support their efforts.  But this is also a day to recall that, by virtue of our Baptism, every Christian is sent on mission, to spread the good news wherever we are: where we live and work, where we play and pray.  Sort of like those who are running for elected office, that means we need to speak about ourselves: to share our own faith.  But we American Catholics aren’t very good at this.  It makes us very self-conscious.  We think of our faith not only as something very personal, but as something very private.  Yet if we just look around (the current presidential campaign being a prime example), we can see what happens when Christians fail to speak up and people do not hear about Jesus and the commands he gave us.  Our mission, my friends, isn’t to speak about ourselves, but to speak about Jesus Christ.  What we need to tell others isn’t, “See what great things I do for God!” but, “See what great things God does for me!”  Without him, we’re nothing and can achieve very little; with him, we see our immeasurable value and that all things become possible. 

I think we all need to be brave as Election Day approaches this year.   Let me tell you who to choose: choose Jesus Christ—this November, and forever after.   Choose to follow in the humble way he taught us.  Choose to praise him by the way you live each day.  Choose to speak of him to your family, friends, and neighbors.  Let everyone know that it is Jesus who has accomplished all you have done.

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