Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14 – 1 John 3: 1-3 – Matthew 5: 1-12a
I have often heard concerns expressed to me about the difficulty of being alone. Especially I have heard of this from those who are mellowing with age, or who have lost a spouse, but also from others of different ages. Strangely, too, it seems, being lonely does not necessarily mean being by one’s self. Rather, being lonely is felt because of not being understood or appreciated.
Fundamental to the message of Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s love for us as well as the importance of each of us to our loving God, no matter who we are, no matter our particular circumstances we are in. We are not alone. God is with us
Consider the way that Jesus made this known in his ministry. His was not a solo mission. He gathered followers around himself and sent them out too announce his presence and his task of announcing Good News. Jesus reminded his followers that when they gathered together, He was with them. In fact, he told them that when they gathered in his name, he with them and would share his very Body and Blood with them. His presence with them would be a Real Presence.
We are also assured by our faith in Jesus Christ that, even when we are apart from others, by ourselves, we are not alone. Rather, we are joined with all the others who believe in God and in Jesus Christ.. We are part of those who profess faith as followers of Christ. We are part of what is called the Body of Christ, the Church. We are part of what we profess as a “Communion of Saints.”
It is this faith that we recall in the celebration of the Feast of All Saints. The source of the strength of our faith is, in fact, that we share this belief with millions of others including those who are living now and, especially today, with those who have lived in the past. Each one of us can recognize that we are not alone. Others have gone through life as we are doing now. They have done so with belief and trust in God and. Often, with even more difficulties than those which face us now..
These are the Saints, these are the Holy Ones we remember today. These are the ones whom Jesus called “blessed.” They were ordinary people. They were people who went through the things we do. They are those who mourned, who hungered for what is right, who were kind and merciful, who were often rejected and even persecuted. Christ called them to be one with him and with others in God’s love. They are like ourselves, described by John as children of God now who can even endure rejection and suffering and continue to sign sing praise and blessing to God.
We who believe in God and share in the Body of Christ are part of all of this. We are not alone. We are united with and in union with the Communion of All the Saints – both ordinary and extraordinary people – who know or who knew God’s love and reflected that love in their lives. Ir is as this Communion of Saints of which we are a part, blessed as we are in so many way, that we honor and praise our good and gracious God.
Exodus 22: 20-26 – Thesalonians 1: 5c-10 – Matthew 22: 34-20
An individual who is described as an “expert of the law” approached Jesus and wanted to know what was the most important law. Perhaps this was a trick question meant to trip up Jesus in his response. That reply was both direct and simple. In fact, what Jesus states is that all of the Revelation that is known can be boiled down to this: Love God, love neighbors as one loves oneself. This is a familiar saying. We know it well. But it is often requires a great effort to understand it and to live it out.
At various times and in various conversations, the question is brought up: what does love of self mean. It might seem strange to say “love of self,” almost prideful. But if it is given some thought, this is not the case at all.
Love of self does not mean being self-centered or narcissistic. It is not a selfish disregard for everyone else, that no one else counts but the self – me. A healthy love of self consists in being comfortable with who and what I am. It is a healthy acceptance of who and what I am as a creation of God. The lack of being comfortable with one’s self, a lack of self-respect, often leads to the effort to escape.. This can lead, for example, to a variety of addictions: alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, pornography, control. There are other ways that this discomfort with oneself can be evident: envy, jealousy, ridicule, judgement, bigotry, prejudice. All of these suggest not being at ease with just what I am. It is in what I am that I can give honor and glory to God in my life.
If one can love one’s self properly then the next step of loving one’s neighbor can be ta taken. Such love is reflected in what we heard from the Book of Exodus. No one is a foreigner any more than any one of us. All of us were once foreigners, alienated from God. But we were treated with compassion by our loving God. All of us, in some time and in some way have experienced this compassionate and loving God through Jesus Christ, often shown to us through the actions of another person.
Properly understanding the love of oneself freely allows us to love our neighbor. Love of neighbor shows concern for those who are immediately around us. It also shows concern and respect for fellow human being as well as concern for our common planet. One cannot love a neighbor too much. Nor can a line be drawn that limits the concern and respect shown to any particular person.
A genuine love of God flows naturally from the first two. If there is healthy love of self, a love of the life that has been given by God, and if there is a love of the neighbor with whom we have been placed in this world by a loving God, then the genuine love of God will result. One cannot say that God is loved, if the self made by God is not loved. Nor can one say that God is loved, if one’s neighbor, a fellow creation of God, is not loved as well.
The response Jesus made to the question which challenged him was straightforward. It is the living out of the whole of that response, starting with ourselves, that proclaims the genuine faith and trust we have in a good and gracious God.
Isaiah 45: 4-6 – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5b – Matthew 22: 15-21
The reminder that is placed before us today is that God acts through human instruments. Our Faith declares the importance of human actions as a way in which God and God’s presence in our world is revealed. The ultimate sign of this, of course, is that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a human in order to reveal the total love of our God for us.
What Isaiah describes to us is that Cyrus, the king of Persia, a pagan king, was also the instrument of the restoration of God’s Chosen People. In allowing for the rebuilding of the Temple, Cyrus acted in a manner that helped to restore the Jewish nation. What is emphasized in this account is that while Cyrus is mighty in doing this, it is by God’s investiture of him with authority that he is able to accomplish this. Cyrus may have been the king of an earthly kingdom, God was still the Lord of Lords over all of creation.
There is, then, a good connection with the familiar passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Jesus offers us the reminder that while we are to take care of our civil duties by “rendering to Cesar, the ultimate, the final, rendering is to be made to God. God and Caesar are not co-equals. God is the final source of authority, the final object of honor.
What Jesus says is actually even more significant in our times than in his. The issues in our world are more complex than then and we are much more aware of them. We have a much greater voice in determining what government does. We can affect what Caesar does and who Caesar is. We have a greater duty to insure that government acts in line with God’s purpose for humanity.
In the expression of the Catholic Faith there are values which we are to uphold. These values included that of life itself, from beginning to end. These values likewise concern matters of the migration of people, of truth and of honesty, of peace and of justice, and most especially, of the dignity of and the respect for all persons. These are all very much a part of the fabric of our beliefs. However, we can often allow ourselves to be swayed by those whose values are so wrapped up in themselves and their own selfishness.
This is not just a matter of politics. There are issues which go beyond politics. Often too much is being rendered to the Caesars of the world and not enough to the purposes of God. Too much of our thinking can be influenced and formulated by the Caesar of this world rather than by the Gospel message.
As citizens of our society and members of Christ’s Body, the Church, we must continue the work of God in bringing into the world God’s purpose and God’s goals: the revelation of God’s love for mankind and for all of creation. As Cyrus was once God’s instrument, so we are to be instruments now in revealing the values we possess because of our faith in a good and gracious God.
Isaiah 25: 6-1a – Philippians 4: 12-14 – Matthew 12: 1-10
What better way to describe how God seeks to be united with us than to speak of a banquet, an image that is familiar to us. A banquet usually celebrates some type of special occasion or event. . In addition to the sharing of food in a bountiful way, there is the expression of gratitude and esteem that is conveyed to those who are invited. It is a truly fitting way to describe the “Kingdom,” the abiding presence of God with us.
Much is involved in putting on a banquet. In addition to the preparation of the food, there are the invitations, the responses of the guests, the setting and decorations, s well as the entertainment or program presented. These things are all apparent in both of the passages of Scripture that we have heard, from Isaiah and Matthew. Yet, in the Gospel account, despite all that has been done and the importance of the occasion being celebrate, the invitations are refused. The rationalizations given for this refusal are twofold. On the one hand there is the failure to recognize the values of what is being offered. On the other hand, the invited guests allow their own selfishness to overrule the effort to take part in the event.
The story of God’s relationship with mankind, with us, is the story of the generosity of god. In addition to giving the gift of life, God has given us this world, this universe, indeed, all of creation. Even more God has entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ, shared our life, and gave of that life on our behalf.
Often, particularly in past times, we have refused the generosity of these gifts of god to us. Perhaps we have taken them for granted. Or we have fallen victim to a common trait in our society and culture of seeking some type of self-directed, self gratification. Perhaps our experience now with the limitations we have experiences during these last few months as well as the inconveniences we have had to endure out of consideration of others, we have recognized, or have had the opportunity to recognize, what is genuinely important, what is genuinely valuable.
We need, however, to be open to hearing the invitation made to us by God. It calls for a genuine desire to dialogue with God in prayer. It calls for a removing of what might distract us and take us away from the Lord. It calls for doings away with selfishness – something that can be difficult.
Once again, it is Saint Paul who gives us an important lesson. The Christians at Philippi to whom he was writing, had generously supported him. For this he was grateful. But he also points out that whether he has all he needs, or he is deprived of even the essentials for living made no difference to him. What is important to him was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What we have heard today is a description of how God, in many different and bountiful ways, seeks to be joined with us. More than anything else, this is what the banquet prepared for us, the banquet to which we have been invited, represents to us. This Banquet, the Kingdom of
God, is a reality made known to us in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The invitation made to us is to continue that ministry, that mission, in our daily lives through the way we make known our faith and trust in goo and gracious God.
Isaiah 5: 1-7 – Philippians 4: 6-9 – Matthew 21: 33-43
As St. Matthew recorded the parable of Jesus that we heard today, it was addressed in a very direct way, to the leaders of the Jewish society of that time. But we also understand that God speaks to us here and now through these inspired writings of the Scriptures. Thus we can ask ourselves, how do we find meaning for ourselves from what is being said, particularly along with the beautiful poetry of Isaiah which we also heard.
One consideration is that in the imagery of both passages we are told of the relationship God seeks with us. The deep love, the concern, the cultivation of all of us describes how God desires to relate to us. How is it, then, that we are to react and to respond? I have mention on numerous occasions that in this gift of life we have received, there are man “opportunities” presented to us. These are many opportunities to grow and to develop and thus to yield a rich and bountiful harvest in our lives.
Isaiah describes the Israelites of old as well as us, as a vineyard. All of us and each of us is like a grapevine that needs constant care and attention. It needs proper weather as well a careful cultivation in order to yield a good harvest. Like the owner of the vineyard, God’s effort is constant and continuous. All that can be done has been done. But, for some reason, the vine failed. It did not respond. The owner of the vineyard, however, God in this imagery, will try once again.
In the story told by Jesus, the owner does what he can in order to gain back what is due to him.. But the workers constantly reject the owner’s efforts. The workers, in the enthusiasm of their rebellion, foolishly perceive themselves as entitled to take over ownership of the vineyard. Their response was contrary to the owner’s efforts, as can often reject God’s love for us in the choices we make. They do not succeed and bring on their own destruction.
In our human experience of relationships, in order to succeed, the efforts must be mutual. There are man opportunities for the relationship to deepen and to grow. But the effort cannot be made only by one party. One cannot be active while the other is passive. There must be co-operation, a working together that is present and active in both. So it is in our relationship with God.
It is in the words of Saint Paul that we have also heard today that we are given insight into how we are to respond to God. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent, praiseworthy – these are the qualities that are to mark our lives. Choosing thee are the opportunities given to us to gain a bountiful harvest in how we live. Lives that are lived in this way are lives that truly reflect and reveal a deep commitment to and a response to our good and gracious God.