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Readings

Isaiah 22:15, 19-23

Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8

Romans 11:33-36

Matthew 16:13-20
21st Sunday in OT - August 23, 2020

Where is truth? Where is reality? Where is God? In today's Gospel I think Jesus is showing us where to look. He asked the disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" He was interested in the perceptions and feelings in the locality in what we would now call the signs-of-the-times. They answered that some said he was Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then he asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" He wanted to find out the truth they felt and heard from within. When Peter professed his faith that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, because no mere man revealed this to you but the Father who is in heaven." Truth and knowledge and experience of God come from around us, within us and above us. These are not in competition with one another but complementing one another. To have a perception that is as balanced and as whole as possible of God, we must be in touch, as fully as possible, with all of these sources.
The two questions, "whom do people say that I am?" and "whom do you say that I am?" and the response that there are other things that come from above, open up a wider vision of where to find God. The first question makes us look for truth in history, sociology, anthropology, culture, in the concerns and aspirations of our times like feminism and concern for the environment. It opens us up to a God (and a church) who are to be perceived and responded to in the world around us. The question, "who do you say that I am?" opens up the world of psychology and spirituality. It makes us alert to a God who dwells in the cave of our heart. Finally, the message that is given from above opens us up to the very necessary world and Church of theology, institution, scholarship and worship.
Starting from these questions we can identify three ways of being Church; the communitarian, the mystical and the institutional. If the church itself is to be healthy these need to be working together in a balanced harmony.
The communitarian church relates to the Emmanuel God, the God-with-us. For this way of being Church the primary place in which to hear God and to answer God is in people and situations. It is a Church which empowers us to use our God-given gifts to provide for our wants, and calls us to make a prophetic stance at times. It is a Basic Ecclesial Community Church. One of the great happenings of our time is the shift of focus from the primary location of God in heaven to seeing him and responding to him in the community, the people of God.
The mystical church is the church of the Spirit that dwells in our hearts. It is being in touch with the source of life within - to drink from one's own well. The relationship with God is immediate, it is not mediated by ritual or people or situations. It is a relationship which brings us more and more to transcend wanting and just be and enjoy and respond to the abundance of God's goodness in the world around us. It brings us into a nonviolent partnership with God rather than a self-centered effort to direct him and his work. It releases an abundance of energy for relevant action in the world. It is a spirit-filled, rather vague, unstructured church.
The institutional church relates to a God "out there." It relates to God and mediates God to us mainly through sacraments, devotion and ritual. It asks God to intervene in our world and provide for our wants. It tries to manage the bookkeeping for God. It gives us a framework of meaning; it provides the security of authority and continuity of teaching. The institutional model of being church has been dominant for the centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council. When most people thought of God they thought only of the God out there in heaven; when they thought of the Church they thought only of the institutional church.
One of the great insights of Fr. John Main was to see that renewal of the church would have to be contemplative renewal; a rediscovering of the Spirit that is within. Not only did he rediscover it but he gave us a simple way of getting in touch with it - through the twice daily saying of the mantra or prayer word for 20 to 30 minutes.
The Spirit within us is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. The Spirit within us should be our first place of prayer. It should be our first but not our only place of prayer. Our towns have water supplies. Most of these originate in a lake or reservoir. The water is then pumped to a tank on an elevated place. After that it is allowed to flow by gravity, bringing this essential for living to the faucets of taps in our homes, gardens and places of work. The water in the lake, tank or faucet is the same water. When on a picnic you may go to the lake and take a pail full of water directly from it. You may rush, as the fire engine does, to get water from the tank. Normally, however, for your day to day usage, you will turn on your tap or faucet right there in your home if you need water.
So, too, we can and should turn to God our Father/Mother/Creator on whom we depend for all. This is the main emphasis, but not the exclusive one, when we go to church and worship. When we read the Scriptures and reflect on the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, we are principally but not exclusively growing in relationship with Jesus, the companion God, who became one of us. But just as we turn to the faucet within our house for our day to day water needs, so too, our day to day relationship with God will principally be with the Spirit who dwells within us and who helps us to express God in and to the world.

Readings

Jeremiah 20:7-9

Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Romans 12:1-2

Matthew 16:21-27
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2020

Jesus Christ loves us enough to tell us the truth about ourselves. Those who selfishly use other people instead of seeking their authentic good rarely tell them hard truths. It's too risky. Pointing out their failings may result in offense and rejection - like the parents who are afraid to discipline their child. But love will take the risk, because love always goes after what is best for the beloved. A true friend will tell you when you're wrong, so that you can straighten out.

Christ is a true friend, and he shows it in this conversation with St Peter. Jesus just finished elevating Peter to a position of prominence in the coming Kingdom, the passage we just listened to follows immediately the one where Christ dubs him the "rock" upon which he will build his church. But then Jesus makes the shocking announcement that he is going to suffer greatly and be killed - he predicts his passion.
Peter, puffed up with naïve self-importance, takes the Lord aside and disagrees with him. That's when Christ comes down hard on him - very hard, calling him "Satan" and telling him that he is thinking like a pagan, not like one of his followers. Only a true friend would do something like that.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Many Pharisees and Scribes positively hated him and had been plotting his death almost since the beginning of his ministry. When Jesus made his speech about the importance of the Eucharist, of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to receive eternal life, most of his followers walked out on him. Here too, by being so firm with Peter, he was risking a walk-out. But in every case, Jesus cared less about personal popularity than about the saving truth. He is a friend we can count on.
Being honest about the hard truths got Jesus in trouble - in fact, it got him crucified. It also got the Old Testament prophets in trouble, and Jeremiah, the author of today's First Reading, is a prime example.
He lived in Jerusalem in the final years before that city was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, in 588 BC His God-given task was to warn the Israelites that if they didn't repent and return to the commandments and the faith of their fathers, disaster would strike. No one wanted to hear that, especially not the corrupt rulers, so they tried to silence him. They spread lies about him, accusing him of sins he never committed. They imprisoned him more than once. One time some false prophets even threw him into an old well, filled with mud, and left him there to die. Another time the king asked him to write down his prophecies, and when the scroll was read in the king's presence, he became so infuriated that he ripped up the scroll, threw the pieces into the fire, and then had Jeremiah arrested. And yet, God continued to give Jeremiah the courage to speak the hard truths, to warn the Israelites, encouraging them to repent.

This experience of speaking the saving truth even at great personal cost is what Jeremiah describes in today's Reading: "...the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself... I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." Jeremiah was a preview of Jesus. Jesus loves us too much to hide the hard truths - even if he knows that we don't always want to hear them.
Jesus tells us the hard truths we need to hear; he loves us too much to put his own comfort ahead of our spiritual and moral well-being. During this Liturgy, we should thank him for being a true friend, and let his love give us comfort and confidence. But we should also ask ourselves a difficult question.
What kind of friend are we being to Jesus? Jesus cares about this; he doesn't want a one-way relationship. There are at least two ways we can check up on this.

 
First, are we honest with him in prayer? It is easy for us to turn our prayer into an exterior exercise in good manners rather than a real, heart-to-heart conversation. Jesus is our King, but he is also our older brother, the kind of brother who really cares, who you can talk to about anything. Is that the kind of relationship we have with him?

Second, are we courageous about speaking the hard truths to others? Jesus died for every sinner, and he wants to save all of us - our neighbors, our cousins, our coworkers, our teammates... everyone.

And we are his messengers - messengers of his love.

That means that sometimes it's up to us to tell people the hard truths that no one else will tell them, the ones that they really need to hear, so that they don't damage their souls, their lives, and their futures. This doesn't necessarily mean going to football practice wearing a chastity sign. But it does mean reaching out to your buddy who is struggling with temptation and helping him make the right decision.

The best way to thank Jesus for being such a faithful friend to us is to be a faithful friend to him in return.

Readings

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 18:15-20
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 6, 2020

Nobody likes to be corrected. It tweaks our ego, and it is often badly done or consists of someone making snide comments or berating us because we’ve done something they don’t like. Fraternal correction can also sting, but it has the good of the corrected person in mind. Today’s readings remind us that correction when done fraternally, can be a great act of charity that we should appreciate and practice for the good of others.
In today’s First Reading God reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our moral responsibility to warn a brother or sister that they are doing something evil. It’s our duty to inform people of the consequences of their evil actions.

When the Lord first asked Cain about the murder of Abel, he phrased it in a way that tried to help Cain realize he was responsible for his brother: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain responded, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”. We are all our brother’s keeper.

Today in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, racial unrest, political unrest, we live in a world that teaches us at times to mind our own business, but that doesn’t include someone who is drowning, at the mercy of criminals, or committing a crime themselves. Our society is full of initiatives to help others turn from their errors and faults: from programs for “at risk” youth to drug rehab to penitentiaries, but none of them has the same power as a brother or sister who genuinely cares and takes an interest in someone on the wrong path.
God is telling Ezekiel today, and us, to inform consciences out of charity, not to force them onto the right path. If we love someone, we cannot leave them in ignorance about the errors and bad judgements which they’re doing.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that every just law is built on love, and if we focus on loving and teaching others to love everything else will fall into place. Society has many laws and measures today that are built on justice, but not always enforced with love.

Deeper than the labels of “suspect,” “victim,” “criminal,” there is only one label that matters: “brother/sister.” St. Paul simply repeats what Jesus himself answered when the scribe asked him what was the greatest commandment regarding each other: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Fraternal correction is not returning evil for evil, no matter what our brother/sister has done.

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that before entering into litigation with someone who has wronged us we should try simple fraternal correction. Our society today tends to try and resolve disputes through rules and regulations, lawyers and courts, fines and penalties or even through violence. We often try from the beginning to get justice from someone through someone else, when we know that nobody reacts well to being pressured into doing something. We should always try to start by settling a dispute fraternally: one on one, in frank but charitable dialogue.

We should not only seek our good, but the good of the person who has afflicted us, and we won’t completely understand their motives if we don’t speak to them. There are many small disagreements that can be resolved this way and to everyone’s satisfaction. If an attempt at fraternal correction fails it is not a lack of charity to bring witnesses in and, if necessary the authorities be they civil or church, to help both parties see the truth and adhere to it.

Justice is sought, but the good of both parties as well. If the guilty party does not listen to all the facts and an authoritative judgment, then the guilty party has been shown to not be in communion with those he or she has afflicted, and that has to be acknowledged, sometimes publicly. 

There’s a false story as detailed on snopes.com that has floated around for the last twenty years on the Internet, but, as a joke, it is worth telling to illustrate our point.

On a foggy night, a large ship saw a smaller ship on the sea and realized that they were on a collision course. The large ship made radio contact and asked the other ship to change course slightly. The request was calmly declined. Angry and astonished, the large ship identified itself with all its titles and demanded to be heeded: “This is the U.S.S. BIG NAVAL SHIP, and there will be serious consequences if you don’t change course immediately! Over.”

The response? “This is a lighthouse. Over.” The small “ship” was actually a lighthouse and the U.S.S. BIG NAVAL SHIP, for all its fuming, was headed straight for the rocky coast.

Fraternal correction is simply pointing out that someone is on a collision course. They can stay on course if they wish, but it’s inadvisable.

Some people may be eager to go out and start correcting, but there is a fine line between judging and correcting. Jesus taught us, take care of the beam in your eye before you help your brother/sister with the splinter in theirs. If we’re going to inform other peoples’ consciences, we need to make sure to form our own.
Reading Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good way to deal with the beam in your eye so that you can better help your brother/sister with removing the splinter from theirs.

The best remedy to being judgmental is to remember that we are all people in need of grace and guidance. As one of the options for the penitential rite at the start of our Liturgy we say: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…”

With a healthy dose of humility and self-knowledge, you’ll be ready to help your brother/sister as a fraternal sibling.

Readings

Sirach 27:30 - 28:9

Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12

Romans 14:7-9

Matthew 18:21-35
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2020

Life is complicated. As we go through life, we run into problems and dilemmas; questions come to the surface; doubts and difficulties confuse us. Unfortunately, we don't always go to the right place for answers. We have a tendency to try and fix everything ourselves, to measure out these difficulties according to limited, human yardsticks. Sometimes we use our own, and sometimes we use one from a popular writer, speaker, or website.

But Jesus came to earth precisely because he knew that human yardsticks are not good enough for our dilemmas. We need to learn to measure all things according to Christ’s standards. We need to bring our questions to him, just as St. Peter did in today's Gospel passage.

This passage immediately follows Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve about being good shepherds. We can imagine the disciples discussing those instructions, maybe even arguing about how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep, if it keeps wandering away. Rabbinic teaching in those days placed the limit of forgiveness at three times; a fourth offense was not to be forgiven. Maybe St. Peter was proposing to increase the limit to seven times, in light of Christ’s teachings, and some of the others were sticking the traditional view.

To resolve the argument, he goes to Jesus. That was the right thing to do. The buck stops with Jesus; he is the final word God has spoken to us. In him we find the answers we need for every dilemma.  
Like St. Peter, we should bring our questions to Jesus in prayer; we should cast the light of the Church’s guidance on our moral and intellectual quandaries; and then, also like Peter, we should accept Christ’s solution.

One of the great women mystics of the Middle Ages was St. Hildegard. She was a noblewoman who consecrated her life to God at a very early age, and eventually became abbess of a Benedictine monastery in Germany. Besides her attractive virtue and her wisdom in ruling her growing monastery, St. Hildegard was also given the mystical privilege of visions and private revelations. And that's when her life got complicated.
At the time, back in the twelfth century, the Catholic Church in Europe was still a relatively new religious institution. The work of evangelizing the pagan tribes of northern Europe was still going on. As a result, superstition and various forms of dramatic spiritual warfare linked with left-over pagan practices were rampant.

When St. Hildegard started having her visions and revelations, she became afraid that they were tricks of the devil. She needed a dependable yardstick to bring peace to her soul. So she recorded her visions and submitted them to her spiritual director. Then she decided to submit them also to one of the other great saints of Europe at that time, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Finally, they were submitted to the Pope, who authorized her to publish her writings widely and speak publicly about all that God was showing her.
This determined and humble submission to Christ's authority as delegated to the Church not only brought peace to her soul, but it also allowed her personal gifts to bear fruit for the whole Church. You can still read her writings today, and even listen to some of the music that she composed. Christ is the sure yardstick for all of our confusions and dilemmas. And when we bring our questions to him through his chosen representatives, we too can achieve interior peace and assure the supernatural fruitfulness of our lives.
Life is complicated, tangled with dilemmas, questions, and problems. Jesus is the only sure way out of the tangle. But to follow Jesus, to really make Christ our yardstick, requires a fundamental decision. At some point, every one of us has to make this decision. Unfortunately, too many of us wait too long before doing so. St. Paul explains what this decision is in today's Second Reading.

He tells the Romans: None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.
In other words, in order to fill our lives with the light and strength of Jesus, we have to decide to live and die for Jesus, to belong to Jesus. We have to give our lives to him. We can't just be labeled “Catholic” on the outside; we have to invite Jesus to come into our hearts and allow him to be our teacher, our friend, our Savior, and our King.

One reason we sometimes delay making this surrender of our lives to Christ is because of our faults and errors. We feel unworthy, unlovable. But today's Gospel reminds us that God's mercy is unlimited, if only we are willing to confess our faults and errors and accept his forgiveness.

Another reason we delay making this commitment to Christ is because we are afraid of giving up our own plans and hopes. But God's plans and hopes are infinitely more wonderful than anything we could come up with on our own, as today's Psalm reminds us: "As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful."

As we continue with this Mass, let us open our confused, complicated, and yearning hearts to Jesus, maybe for the very first time, and invite him to be our way, our truth, and our life.
Nothing would please him more.

Readings

Ezekiel 18:25-28

Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Philippians 2:1-11 or 2:1-5

Matthew 21:28-32
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 27, 2020

Jesus speaks this parable towards the very end of his life. He is in Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion. He spends his nights outside the city with his disciples and his days inside the Temple, debating with the Jewish scholars and leaders who are trying to discredit and humiliate him. He tells this parable for them, in order to break through their blindness.

These leaders, the ones who are against Jesus and who will soon arrange his death, are Palestine's experts in religion. They are the ones who serve in the Temple, study the sacred Scriptures, preach to the crowds, and rule and govern God's Chosen people. They claim to be God's close collaborators, the ones who are following God's commandments better than anyone else. And yet, these are the very ones who fail to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Sinners and social outcasts on the other hand, like tax collectors and prostitutes, do recognize Jesus; they believe in him, and they repent from their sin. Why are the chief priests and elders unable to see the truth? Why do they, like the second son in the parable, say that they are God's followers, but then refuse to obey the Messiah of God?

This is an important question for us.

We are among the small percentage of Christians who come to Sunday Mass, now either physically or virtually - we are the ones who appear to be following Jesus. And so, we too are in danger of falling into this same blindness, of thinking that we are doing God's will in our lives, but actually not doing it. The cause of their spiritual blindness can also become the cause of our spiritual blindness. What is this cause? Hypocrisy. Keeping up the appearances of a good Christian, but compromising the substance.

Jesus condemned hypocrisy more energetically than any other sin. Maybe this was because it is one of the easiest sins to fall into. It's so easy to change our outward behavior in order to fit in with everyone around us. But it's a losing strategy, because sooner or later every actor has to take off his mask.

This was especially true for the Marquis de Condorset, a nobleman who lived in France at the time of the French Revolution. The Revolution was tough on nobility. For years the aristocracy had exploited the common people, forcing many of them to suffer and starve while the nobles lived in luxury.

With the revolution came payback. The guillotine was the method of choice for the people's revenge. During the Revolution, many noblemen tried to escape execution by disguising themselves to slip out of the country undetected. This particular Marquis donned the ragged clothes of a peasant and attempted to make his way to the nearest border.

 
His ploy worked until he stopped at an inn full of real peasants. The disguised nobleman walked into the inn, sat down at a table, and ordered an omelet made with a dozen eggs. That wasn't a smart thing to do in front of a group of people who never would have been able to afford such an extravagant meal. They immediately saw through his disguise. The nobleman's mistake ended up sending him to the guillotine.

Hypocrisy is like that: we put on different disguises in order to fit in with different crowds. But in the end that kind of selfish living for appearances leads to self-destruction - when we lose sight of who we really are, we also lose sight of everyone else, including God.

What is the antidote to this spiritual poison? A basic human virtue that we love to find in other people, but that we find it hard to live ourselves: sincerity.

Hypocrisy makes us blind to God's presence in our lives; sincerity opens the eyes of our souls to find God everywhere. We need to install sincerity especially in three key areas of our lives.

First, in our relationship with God. We must never try to impress God or put on a show for him. We must simply open our hearts to God as s/he knows them thoroughly already, like little children, so that he can touch our hearts with his transforming grace.

Second, in our relationship with ourselves. We must never lie to ourselves about the reasons we do things, making false excuses or immaturely passing the buck. We must take responsibility for our actions, good and bad, confident that God can fix whatever we may break. As Christ said, the truth will set us free.

Third, in our words. It is so easy to distort the truth when we talk. We like to flatter people, or make them admire us, and so we say things that aren't really true. We don't have an obligation to tell everything to everyone, but we always have an obligation to be truthful in what we choose to say.

In a few moments Jesus will feed us with the Eucharist. The Eucharist can serve to strengthen our resolve to be sincere Christians, with hearts open to God's grace, not hypocrites.

The unleavened bread here and the bread you have at home they will soon be transformed into Christ's body and blood is also an image of sincerity. Its beauty is in its simplicity - no show, nothing fancy, just a humble host of eternal Truth. That's exactly what every Christian is called to be.

Readings

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalms 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 1

Philippians 4:6-9

Matthew 21:33-43
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2020

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes the misuse and abuse of the people of Israel by their leaders as being like vines ripe for cultivation and left unattended. Vineyards evoke images of careful cultivation by skilled vintners with the expectation of fine vintages of wine. The Lord had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard, and Israel’s leaders like vintners with everything at their disposal to be fruitful and successful. What the Lord received instead were wild grapes. Grapes with no cultivation, left to grow or die by chance, depending on weather and other conditions, were not very good grapes. If anything good grew at all, it was not thanks to the vintners, and what grew in such an unfavorable situation was not of much worth. The leaders of Israel were expected to cultivate justice and peace in their subjects, and they didn’t.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches that the peace of God and the shelter of our hearts and minds in Christ depend on our attitude and the things we value as important. Envy and greed can lead to inaction, but anxiety can have the same effect. St. Paul counsels us in moments of anxiety to ask God for what we need, but in a spirit of gratitude for what the Lord has already done. That’s the best remedy to a warped sense of entitlement when things don’t go as we’d like. Our Lord has promised us that the Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask, so there is no need to worry. If we occupy ourselves with truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence, we’ll not only experience the peace of God but help to spread it.

In today’s Gospel Jesus invites us to imagine a group of men given the opportunity of a lifetime, both professionally and personally: not only a good place to live but a great way to make a living. Imagine a business at an excellent location, with an abundant clientele, a great lease, and the job of making a lot of people happy (the vineyard is for producing wine, throughout Scripture, symbolizes joy). If that weren’t enough, the men running the business also have a beautiful place to live and a great landlord. Any outside observer would say that professionally and personally the owner has been very kind to his tenants, even going beyond what a tenant would expect or deserve. All the owner asks in return is a share of the joy that he hoped the tenants would produce.

This is where the mystery of evil enters: mystery in the sense of evil, ultimately, following no logic but its own, a twisted logic that bends everything around it and denies greater truths eventually at its own expense. The tenants start beating up the people coming to collect the owner’s fair share and leaving him empty handed. There’s no remorse: gradually they start killing them too. The owner shows a kindness that the tenants, to any outside observer, do not deserve. He keeps giving them opportunities until one day he gives them the greatest and most definitive opportunity: he sends the heir himself, a reminder that he is the owner and they are the tenants, and an extension of his very self. In their twisted logic, they convince themselves that by eliminating the heir any trace of ownership will die with the owner, and he’ll also stop bothering them, the son was the last one he could send, as the parable narrates.

The chief priests, scribes, and elders pronounce judgment on this “theoretical” case, and their own words condemn what they are doing. Jesus is the cornerstone. You can’t even speak of having a structure, having a building, without a cornerstone–it joins two walls together. Many “tenants” who’ve received so much kindness, personally and professionally, from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God and others, and as a result, impoverish any joy they could give. They deny something fundamental, something structural: that the owner and his heir are what make their life possible, whether they acknowledge it or not, and eventually, second chances and third, and fourth, etc. are exhausted, and mercy has to give way to justice.

The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way of teaching the Pharisees that they had fallen into a warped sense of entitlement over something that didn’t belong to them: the People of God. So when the Son comes on behalf of the true “owner” of the People of God, they’re going to reject him and kill him thinking that somehow everything will then return to normal. Jesus today through the parable is prophesying the outcome of their covetousness and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be taken away and given to those who’ll be worthy stewards of God’s gifts.

Anyone who rents knows the basics of being on good terms with your landlord, like John does with Graham and I who are his landlords: pay the rent in full and on time, don’t be a nuisance to your neighbors, and keep your place clean. The alternative is late fees, eviction (forcible or otherwise), and lawsuits. The landlord in today’s Gospel is incredibly patient with his tenants. That shows something deeper is going on. The landlord cares about his tenants, above and beyond the call of duty, he gives them innumerable chances until he can give them no more.

St. Paul reminded us today in the second reading about how we can pay our Lord his due: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence. Those things don’t just bring peace and joy into our lives, but also in those, we know and love. Let’s contemplate today the kindness of God in our lives and ask him to help us to see how we can work with him to bring joy to him, to others, and to ourselves.

Readings

Isaiah 25:6-10

Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6

Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20

Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October, 11, 2020

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes our future as the ultimate party where shadows and tears are banished, and there’s only room for celebration. Everyone, “all peoples,” are invited to this celebration. No expense is spared on the food and the wine. Everything that could sour the party is not just put on hold; it is banished forever. It’s not just a moment to forget worries, but to leave them and the tears they cause behind forever more. Jesus is the life of the party on a deeper level than we could imagine.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that moments of famine help us appreciate even more the moments of feast. If you want just one list of all the ups and downs of St. Paul’s missions, just read 2 Corinthians 11:21–33: prisons, beatings, shipwrecks, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” The Philippians were worried about his hardship, but St. Paul responds that he can live in feast or famine because it is Jesus who strengthens him. There are a few lines omitted in this dialogue, where St. Paul recalls how the Philippians supported him materially in his missionary endeavors, even at times when no other church did. St. Paul assures them that Jesus will provide for them whatever they need as well.

In today’s Gospel, the wedding feast reminds us of Heaven, but also that although everyone is invited to the party, some, in the end, will not be found worthy to participate in it, and some won’t want to participate in it at all. Some had already been invited to the feast, and now servants were sent to tell them it was ready. Obviously, these invitees had a closer relationship with the king: they were invited to come and didn’t feel obliged to come. The invitees ask to be excused, but just gave excuses not to come: they’d known when the great dinner would be held and had made other plans. Some didn’t even make excuses and just killed the messengers. They either didn’t want to go or were merely indifferent about going: that showed what they thought of their king, both as their ruler and as their friend. Something or someone else came first.

Abandoned by his friends, the king invited other members of his kingdom, but not on the basis of friendship, just by a benevolence a king owes his people. In the end, he also invites his subjects who are complete strangers to him, perhaps people not even a part of his kingdom at all, “good and bad.” They benefit from the great dinner, but they cannot take the place of those the king wanted to partake of it, his invitees, those he wanted to acknowledge as his friends. If this parable speaks to us of Heaven, it’s also a reminder that God is merciful and good, but in the end, we have to do our part, even a little, if we want to be saved. Salvation is not automatic.

The man with no wedding garment had no answer for the king’s question: there was no excuse he could offer, and if the king was displeased, it means something was expected of that man that he didn’t do. That wedding garment symbolizes having done something to partake and appreciate the marriage feast. This poor man shows no signs of celebration whatsoever. Maybe he represents that Christian who goes through the motions all their life but never actually seeks to help himself or others to get to Heaven. We have to give Jesus something to work with. The man with no wedding garment managed to get to the banquet hall, but he didn’t go far enough to stay.

The life of the party not only enjoys himself but helps others to enjoy the party as well. The host simply sets the stage for him to do his important festive work. Even when the party is long over the thought of him brings a smile. If we cast God the Creator as the host of the party, Jesus is the loving Son who personally extends the invitation as a sign of respect for the invitee. Jesus doesn’t just stop there. As St. Paul reminds us, Jesus is the life of the party: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

When you talk to some people about Heaven, they just roll their eyes. When you speak to some believers about Heaven, their attitude is more, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Ask anyone on Friday afternoon how they feel about the great party coming up that weekend. They can’t wait. They are humming and tapping their feet everywhere they go, thinking about the celebration to come. Visualize the ultimate party this weekend: not a kegger, but Heaven, celebrating in eternity with those you love. If we stop and contemplate Heaven how can it not bring a smile and put us in a “partying” mood? Are you going to pass up the greatest party of all time?

Readings

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6

Psalms 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10

First Thessalonians 1:1-5

Matthew 22:15-21
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time     October 18th, 2020
Homily by: Rev. Mr. Matthew J Emery

Too often we allow ourselves to be blinded by the earthly hardships that are presented in front of us and we tend to lose sight of the bigger pictures that God tries to paint for us. In today’s Gospel, that earthly hardship manifested in the form of the taxes due to Caesar. An earthy hardship that even without Caesar we still deal with today. A hardship that we have learned to deal with, and then move on. It is a necessary hardship that we accept, within reason, and we stopped fearing its existence. Although taxes are just an example of a human hardship that has become a normal part of our human life, there are still so many other, and greater, hardships that we have to deal with on a daily basis, and when those hardships begin to become unreasonable for our human condition, we need to learn how to deal with them too, and we do that through the help of God.

Who would have ever imagined that after more than nine months of the Covid-19 virus we would still be dealing with it. Not only are we impacted by the virus itself, we are now also dealing with so many byproducts of the virus. We reasonably gave into the hardships of wearing those sometimes uncomfortable hot and sweaty masks, maintaining social distancing, and isolating ourselves at home to help slow the spread of the virus. Giving in to those hardships proved to be very successful with an estimated two million less deaths in the United States than what was initially predicted!! A necessary, but controllable hardship. With giving into the hardship of protecting the physical health of our human condition, we achieved a slower spread of the virus, unfortunately we also achieved slowing our economy by closing businesses to support social distancing. Now nine months later with a successful slowing, not ending, slowing of the spread, we are beginning to feel the impacts of the byproducts of the slowing process.

With the fear of our physical health being in danger of the virus, a little more manageable, not perfect, but more manageable than it was nine months ago, we now need to focus on containing that original fear so that we keep it from controlling the other aspects of our life. With hundreds of thousands of people still out of work or completely losing their businesses, a new pandemic is arising that is affecting our mental health. The anxiety and depression that is brought on by the fears of losing a stable means of finances can create severe and overwhelming mental illnesses. That weakening of our mind through mental illness can be used as a catalyst for a spiritual corruption. Our human condition naturally makes it incredibly difficult to put focus on our spiritual connection to our soul over and above the mental connection to our mind. When we lose that spiritual connection to our soul, we also lose the connection to God through the Holy Spirit. If we allow our human mind to become weak due to depression, anxiety, stress or fear, we open a door for Satan to creep in and prey on us. He corrupts our weak human minds as a way to further overpower our soul. After all, his ultimate purpose is to draw us away from God and make us his soldiers to further sew evil on earth.

Satan’s corruption of our mind blinds us so that we only focus on problems and negatives happening to our human condition, and that tunnel vision is amplified when it is happening to us directly, not just happening around us! Satan makes us fall further and further in to darkness because he knows that our human condition is riddled with fear and selfishness when it comes to preserving our human life. Satan wants us to lose hope and forget all about the eternal life that God has promised us! Fear is Satan’s number one tool that he uses to control us, and the weaker we become to that fear, the more power he has over us!

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus say, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God." We HAVE repaid to our human condition what it required to satisfy the earthly hardship of the virus, but what have we repaid to God? The fear of the virus made us spiritually vulnerable through the weakening of our minds, and has allowed the evil work of Satan to sneak in and continue to prey on our weaknesses. It is time that we repay God what belongs to God, our faith in him. 

The first two readings today remind us that God is our one and only God. It is He that armed us with His love and spirit and we should never forget that. He was setting us up with those tools to help us when we begin focusing more on the hardships of our human condition which lead us to become weak, so that we can fight the evils that try to corrupt us. 

For a very long time I tried giving to God what is His, but my own personal journey through the past few months have helped me realize that I wasn’t fully giving God all that is His. A couple years ago I finally accepted God’s calling that I needed to begin a new path of serving Him, and I began my seminary training. In the recent months, leading up to a couple weeks ago, I realized that that still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t giving fully to God what is His. I wasn’t placing ALL of my faith in Him. I was still only repaying God some of what belongs to Him. Even though I knew that I wasn’t repaying Him everything that belonged to Him, my human mind kept making excuses that I was. My mind made a justification that I was giving one hundred percent to God, but that was based off of the capacity that I had made available for Him after focusing on other priorities in my life. Priorities like worrying about my physical health and well-being, which is important, but more predominately my job and finances. I was prioritizing human hardships over God.

In January of this coming year, I would have been employed with The Walt Disney Company for twenty years! Though I was initially drawn to the company for it’s unique brand and product that it delivered. After working as a frontline Cast Member, and directly impacting our Guests in unparalleled positive and “magical” ways, I recognized a calling to do more. I was blessed to be able to move into a Leadership position that allowed me to support, inspire, and care for our frontline Cast Members who in turn cared for our Guests. Little did I know at the beginning of that journey what getting in to a Leadership position was actually going to mean. Over the last fifteen years I found out it meant being a manager, big brother, friend, father, therapist, guide, teacher, mentor, referee, and so many more things to people as they needed me to be. I truly believed that I was doing God’s work and fulfilling the purpose that God had for me by not only being the Cast Member’s manager, but their guide on a more spiritual level. With all my soul I cared for every one of them with a paternal love! 

A couple weeks ago I was laid off. My immediate reactions were very human. I was devastated and my heart was broken. I could only think about the things I was losing. I became angry and after everything I sacrificed for that company, I wanted to know “why me”! I became afraid. The fear of not having health insurance and a steady income made me start to panic! Luckily there was still a little spark in me that reminded me God had a higher purpose for me and I needed to focus on the bigger picture He was painting for me. I gave in to my human condition through the grieving process, but just enough to heal. After repaying my human condition, I knew it was time to repay God with the unconditional faith that I owe Him. I spent several days reflecting and having continuous conversations with God, and It finally clicked. I could either continue to give in to the demands of my human condition and become more weak allowing the door to open for Satan to creep in and pull me further and further in to darkness, or I could fully give in to God and repay to Him my complete and unconditional faith, and that with Him I will survive this human condition. I now understand and accept without any doubt that God is the priority above all! When you repay God what belongs to God, you will not fail. He will provide! We just need to have faith in Him.

Our world right now is in desperate need of God. And He wants us to come back to Him! He wants us to put our hope and our trust in Him!! We all need to take steps to put more trust in Him and less trust in our man-made fears. Give to your human condition only what is necessary, and then give the rest to God. Satan can naturally take over your human condition when you are weak enough, but when you put God first, and make Him number one, especially over your own human fears, Satan will never be able to take your soul. I call on everyone out there to recognize when your fellow man is succumbing to man-made fears, and to remind them that the only truth there is, is God.



Readings

Exodus 22:20-26

Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

First Thessalonians 1:5-10

Matthew 22:34-40