FLASHBACK: Homily from the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings for the Sunday


So to start off my homily today, I’m going to ask you to play a little guessing game with me.  Now, don’t all shout out your answers, but wait until all the clues are there.

He’s a fan of classical music, especially Mozart.
He’s an accomplished pianist, and keeps a grand piano in his bedroom.
He loves cats, and used to look after stray cats where he lived for a number of years.
He was a university professor for a number of years.
He’s Catholic, so he has no qualms about a nice glass of wine or a stein of Franziskaner hefeweissen.
He was born in Marktl, Germany.
And has a large family, and is the dad of 1.18 billion kids.

I’m hoping you all got it by now, but if you didn’t, here’s a picture.  The answer was, Pope Benedict XVI!  And because I’m a good and loving associate pastor, and would never make something up at the pulpit, I have the picture of the pope with the Franziskaner.  Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Roman Pontiff, the Servant of the Servants of God, and the Successor to Peter.  He picks up where JPII left off, and the guy before him, and the guy before him, all the way back to this gospel passage that we hear today.  The pope is essential to our lives as Catholics, but often times, we don’t really pay attention to that fact.

There are a lot of people out there today who hate the Church, and often times, the way they show that is by hating the Pope.  There are a great number of people who claim that the papacy was established by the Roman Emperor Constantine – 300 years after Christ!  They claim that until then there was no single leader, but that the Christian community was just a democratic gathering of the followers of Jesus who sat around the campfire singing Kum-bay-a.  Some in the Church even want to change the way that the Church works today.  They want to make the Church into a political organization.  They want opinion polls to determine doctrine, or popular votes to change Church teaching – as if truth were determined by a popular vote.  What a tragic misinterpretation of today’s gospel!  The Church is a family of believers – WE are a family of believers.  We are a kingdom that is ruled by God, with Christ himself as the head of the family and the King of the Kingdom!  But Christ chose to exercise that authority through a representative, a Master of the Palace, like Eliakim in the first reading.  Christ gave us the papacy as an instrument of unity and continuity in the Church, a community of believers brought together by the grace of God and destined to overthrow the evil rule of Satan.

So lets look at that Gospel.  Jesus uses two images today to describe the role of the papacy.  The first is a rock.  Here, Jesus is being kind of tricky, but we don’t really get that in the English translation.  He says that Simon is to be called Peter, in Greek, that’s Petros.  But the Greek word Petros is similar to the other Greek word, Petra, which means rock.  This is probably a lot clearer in Aramaic, Jesus’ own language (other than Latin, that is).  In Aramaic, both Peter and rock are the same word – Kephas.  But we’re not supposed to distinguish between the two.  So what kind of rock is Peter – a boulder, a pebble, what?  Well, the stone Jesus is referring to is the foundation stone, which in ancient Jerusalem, was the foundation of the great Temple itself, and it had been ever since the Israelites had arrive there!  In the first temple, it was the stone where they put the Ark of the Covenant.  In the second one, it was the stone where they sprinkled the blood of sacrifice.  The tradition held that the foundation stone was the cap, or a cork, of the underworld, and so the Temple literally held back all evil from the world.  In the same way, Jesus gives Peter, and to all of us, the Church, that charge that we are the only thing holding back the devil.  We do this by our prayers, by our celebration of every Mass, by our works of charity and love for others, and by the ministry of the Pope.

But Jesus also uses this symbol of the Keys.  He tells us that he gives the keys to Peter, to bind and loose the things of heaven and earth.  But this isn’t just a symbol, it goes back to our first reading.  Isaiah announces that God will pass the key of the house of David to Eliakim, his successor.  But Eliakim clearly isn’t the boss.  And in the same way, the Pope isn’t some government ruler or king.  Rather, he’s a servant, a steward, a vicar.  In fact, one of the titles of the Pope is the Vicar of Christ – he serves as a substitute for Christ, and holds the keys until the Lord comes again in glory.

So why should we care?  Sometimes, it feels like the pope is so far away.  Not just geographically, but spiritually, ideologically.  Sometimes we wonder if he really cares about what happens, even here at All Saints Parish.  And to be honest, the pope is a man, he’s weak, and he has a lot of responsibility for all the other 1.18 billion Catholics out there to help us grow in love of Christ.  But Pope Benedict isn’t some political leader or authoritarian patriarch who laughs maniacally as he imposes his will on us poor American Catholics.  He is the visible presence of Christ, the head of the Church, who keeps unity and stability among our large family.  He is our spiritual father, appointed by Christ and chosen by the Holy Spirit to keep the truth of the Gospel pure and to hand it on to us and to future generations.  He is our pope – a word that in itself comes from Greek meaning not “emperor” or “master”, but dad, papa.

So how do we support our spiritual father?  Of course, we do so every day by praying for him in the Eucharistic prayer, as you’ll hear shortly, but we can, and really should, do something in our own households as well.  One way we can do this is by taking an interest in what the Pope actually says and does!  There’s a news service you can get updates from through the internet called Zenit, and it gives you and I the opportunity to read the pope’s daily messages to the world – to you and me.  I mean, this guy gives us messages every day, but how many of us bother to read them?  Another thing we can do is take an interest in the stuff he’s teaching – go out there and learn about being Catholic, what we believe and profess!  Try also putting a picture of the pope in your home.  There are a million of them at Catholic Supply off Highway K, or you can go cheap and just print one from the internet.  I just suggest you find one more like my first picture, rather than the second.  But the most important thing we can do to support the Holy Father is to pray for him.  Often times, when I give penances during the sacrament of Confession, I’ll ask the penitent to pray an Our Father for Pope Benedict.  But you don’t have to wait to go to confession with me!  Try saying an Our Father for the pope every day.  Ask God to truly help him to be the shepherd we need.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote that “Love for the Roman Pontiff (the pope) must be in us a delightful passion, for in him, we see Christ.”  So as we continue this celebration, as we approach this altar of sacrifice, let us pray for our Holy Father, and thank God for that great gift of Christ’s unifying presence among us.


Here is a link to Zenit, as I mentioned in the homily.  Be sure to sign up for your e-mail service!
Zenit – The World as Seen from Rome

Also, here are some links to hi-def images of Pope Benedict XVI, so you can print one out and put it in your home!
Pope Benedict XVI Image 1
Pope Benedict XVI Image 2
Pope Benedict XVI Image 3
Pope Benedict XVI Image 4
Pope Benedict XVI Image 5

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings for the Sunday

By the way, I have to give credit to a deacon friend of mine for the idea I used as the hook in the homily.  Nobody ever said homilies had to be original, I guess!


So here’s the situation.  You all know that you’ve been there.  You’re eating dinner with someone – family, friend, coworker – and everything is going well, but you say something funny, and the other person does a jolly, full-teeth-exposing smile, and – oh!  the horror! – they have a massive piece of lettuce stuck in their teeth.  So what do you do?  Do you tell them?  Do you hope their next glass of water will do the trick for you?  Do you just ignore it because, after all, don’t we all have a piece of spiritual lettuce stuck in our spiritual teeth?  What do we do?

Well, in short, Jesus is teaching us today – you tell them!  But it almost sounds so authoritarian to us when he says that.  I mean, is it my place to tell the person they’ve got lettuce in their teeth?  We’re taught that tolerance is a great value, and one of the highest we can have!  And indeed, Jesus seems to want us to care about tolerance quite a bit – but he wants even more for us to care about truth.  Because this is about a whole lot more than lettuce.  The reality is that some of the sins that Jesus and the disciples were concerned about, and the sins which you and I encounter every day out there, are real.  Sin is real.  It doesn’t sound nice, and makes us uncomfortable, but it’s real.  It’s destructive.  And it can truly, truly destroy people.  And so, Jesus is giving you and I the responsibility to do everything we can to bring these people back to Jesus.  This isn’t just to fulfill the demands of natural law, or to do what’s right to appease our conscience, but it’s out of concern for the other person.  You wouldn’t want the person with lettuce in their teeth to be humiliated or chastised later, would you?

The reality of sin is something that has been pretty clearly accepted for hundreds of years, but in our own day, this sense of sin which would make us want to avoid offending God or each other has been eclipsed by a sense of relativism, where telling someone the truth might be offensive.  Relativism is the belief that there is no right or wrong.  The only thing that matters is how you feel – what each person thinks or feels is right or wrong is right or wrong for that person.  And yes, this sounds like a good idea, it sounds tolerant, but there’s a couple things wrong with relativism.  First, it’s illogical!  Even the statement that nothing is universal is in itself a universal statement!  But it’s also impractical.  Imagine the things we might accept if we followed relativism.  Atheism is just as true as Catholicism.  The things that Hitler said were just as true as the things that Jesus said.  The Cubs are just as good as the Cardinals!!  Nobody in their right mind would accept these statements (at least nobody from St. Louis), but a person following relativism would have to.  These ideas are at the root of a society which would try to teach us that things like pre-marital sex, abortion, cloning, or same-sex marriage are ok.  These ideas are thrown out there in order to justify what some people have strong desires to do, and in the process, we throw out our moral standards.  But that’s like saying that there’s no such thing as poison.  Sure, it sounds great, and it puts us at ease, but it’s a dangerous statement that is ultimately wrong.  And so Jesus reminds us of the reality of sin and of how destructive it is, and he challenges us to fight against it.

So how do we do this?  Well, he gives us a few steps.  First you have to talk to whoever the person is one on one, and in private.  You patiently and caringly try to encourage the individuals to come back to Christ.  But if that doesn’t work, you might have to involve some other parties, like friends or family.  Only if the problem continues do you make it a public issue, and you only make it public so that others know not to follow the bad example.

Fraternal correction isn’t easy, especially when the issue is a little bigger than a piece of lettuce in the teeth.  And if we’re really going to help someone fix some aspect of their lives to come closer to Christ, it requires a few things from us.  First, we have to know the truth.  We have to have a well-formed conscience which is ultimately informed by the Church’s teaching.  It takes patience as well.  Sometimes solving big personal problems in other individuals takes time.  You might get yelled at a few times, or have the person not listen to you right away, but it’s important to be patient with the other person.  It takes courage too!  I was speaking with a young lady who goes to one of our local high schools, and she was telling me how afraid she was to present a project to her class about the truth of the Church’s teaching on abortion and contraception.  What kind of society do we live in where our youth have to be afraid for their reputations and friendships when they do reports for school?  It takes courage to speak the truth, especially when it is truth nobody wants to hear.  One big thing that we need when correcting others is charity – love.  One of my pastoral counseling professors used to say that you can only challenge someone to the degree to which you have supported them.  We are always called to preach the truth, but we do so in a way that has at its heart a love for the other person, and a concern for their well-being.  Of course, fraternal correction also requires prayer.  Many times, problems don’t get solved right away, especially when we have little control over how children or family members or friends live their lives, but we pray for others, that they might have a heart open to the truth that the Holy Spirit presents us with.

I’ll leave you to decide how you tell someone they have lettuce in their teeth, but it’s important that we take to heart Jesus’s words today, especially in speaking the truth to a society in such dire need of it.  May we have the courage, the patience, the understanding, and the wisdom, to always speak the truth in our world, but to do so with love, just as Christ has called each of us to do.