21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
School at St. Raphael’s has begun. And youngsters were excited; and parents delighted.
David Heller’s paperback “Children’s Letters to God” came to my mind. You may have read some of these letters.
For example, “Dear God, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a really good time like I am.”
Or “Dear God, Thank you for my parents, my sister Anita, and for my grandma and grandpa. I forgive you for my brother Phil. I guess you didn’t finish working on him.”
I recently came across another story about some children who were lined up for lunch in the school cafeteria. There was a large pile of apples. And a nun posted a note on the apple tray: “Take only ONE. God is watching.” And at the other end of the luncheon counter there was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. And a youngster wrote a note on the tray: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”
The Word of God, just proclaimed, speaks about leadership. Isaiah in the eighth century before Jesus (the 700s BC) talks about an official who abused his office. The king replaced him with another official who did do the right and ethical thing. The author challenges you and me to try always to do what is right and speak what is true and work for the common good in our families, our communities, and our government.
Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Rome marvels at the awesome wisdom of God whose saving grace abounds everywhere. He is a God worthy of our praise and glory and honor. Paul invites you and me to stand in awe at the wonders of God all around us and to give thanks to God especially for our blessings.
And in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus asks the disciples: who do people say I am? And Peter recognizes who Jesus is: the Messiah, the fulfillment of the hopes of ancient Israel, the anointed one, the Christos. And Jesus then makes Peter the “rock” of his community of disciples, the church, and gives him a special role that became known as the primacy of Peter. And Pope Francis is the 266th successor to the Chair of Peter.
How coincidental that the news is focused on the Pope’s visit to South Korea. One million plus people attended the open-air beautification of 234 martyrs in 18th and 19th century Korea. We are indeed a global faith community.
And when I saw the TV footage of this, I said to myself and I hope you do too: I like being a Catholic; I’m proud to be a Catholic in a global faith community. And why? For a variety of reasons.
Yes, we have splendid heroes and heroines like Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, Therese of Lisieux and the litany goes on and on. They teach us about the soul, the spiritual life, our friendship with God and one another.
And yes, we have so many different kinds of spirituality--Franciscan, Jesuit, Carmelite, Benedictine--that can lift us up and out of ourselves and into the depths and riches of that awesome mystery we call God, to paraphrase Paul in today’s letter.
What I like in particular about being a Catholic are three things.
First, we are a global community that remembers and celebrates the awesome presence of the Living Jesus Christ in our midst—our way into eternal life, our truth who scatters the darkness all around us, and our life who overcomes death. We retell the stories of Jesus; we celebrate his gestures in the waters of the Jordan river and in the upper room of Jerusalem and at healings in Galilee and Judea. We recognize the sacramental presence of Jesus all around us, and especially in liturgical signs like water, bread and wine and oil. Jesus says: Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in your midst by the power of the Spirit. That same Spirit who spoke through the prophets of ancient Israel, who overshadowed the Virgin Mary and enabled her to bring forth the Word made flesh, God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, that same Spirit who transformed the disciples from cowards hiding behind closed doors into heroes proclaiming fearlessly on the rooftops that Jesus is risen, that same Spirit lives within our global community, within you and me, and can fire us up to do wonders for God if we will only let that Spirit fire us up. That’s the first thing I like about being a Catholic: we remember and celebrate the awesome presence of living Jesus Christ in our midst.
The second thing I like about being a Catholic is that we are a family. Oh yes, we argue about this or that but don’t all families do that. In fact, an argument can be a good sign that we care enough to disagree. But in the final analysis, we are a global family that stretches back to the first century of our Christian era; and that will continue into this millennium and perhaps into many more millennia until Jesus Christ triumphantly returns in his second coming to transform this universe into a kingdom of peace and justice and truth.
And all we have to do to catch the international or global flavor of this community was to tune into “World Youth Day.” Three-million-plus people from 175 countries participated in World Youth Day 2013 in Rio. This global family lives under a huge tent or umbrella and everyone can fit. Some are good and others are not so good; in fact some are dysfunctional, an embarrassment. Yet we have to strive to do the right and ethical thing, to forgive ourselves and one another, let go of those feelings of resentment and bitterness, and get our lives “back on track” and, as the prophet Micah said centuries before Jesus: “do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with our God.” Every day should be a fresh start for each of us.
And a third thing I like about being a Catholic is that we do take a stand on peace and justice. We have the statements of recent Popes-John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. I think too of shelters for the homeless, hospices, soup kitchens, shelters for battered women, AIDS treatment centers, literacy programs, immigration services, day-care centers, hospitals and schools all over the world that our global Catholic Community sponsors. I also think of international agencies like Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, to name but a few.
And now I ask you: what are your favorite reasons for being a Catholic?
As the media focuses on Pope Francis, the successor of Peter, let us pray that he will continue to inspire this global Catholic community, especially you and me, to become effective instruments of God’s peace, faith, hope, light and joy in our families, in our communities and in our workplaces.