Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – November 13, 2011 by Fr. Stephen
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Dear Faithful in Christ,
St. Augustine, I keep referring to him many times because even Thomas Aquinas referred to him as his guide. Easily Augustine is the greatest theologian of the church ever and continues. Even the present Holy Father’s favorite is St. Augustine. And St. Augustine said, after his thorough conversion, as he was a grave sinner and became the greatest luminary in the Church, he said that God created us for Himself. Your life is not yours. It is given to you on loan and God will take it back, hopefully, because He has given you talents and many gifts to be returned with interest. This is what Jesus talks about in the gospel frequently, fruits. Even you heard today, St. Paul talked about it, the fruits of justice, the fruits of holiness. So, God created us for Himself, and we are responsible as stewards for our lives that are not ours. It is the closest one to us, but it is not ours. We must return it to God with all the gifts that He expects of every one of us. So don’t say you’ve been baptized and you attend church and don’t do the works. Protestants tell us that those are not necessary. Yes, they are, because they are the proofs. Jesus is contradicted by Protestants when they belittle the works. And we thought that they know the gospels better than we do. Evidently, they don’t. They skip over many things, the Eucharist and Confession, the means by which we can gain entry into heaven.
And the Lord Jesus Himself said, confirming St. Augustine’s, that God made us for Himself. Jesus said this, I want my servant to be where I am, and He is with the Father sharing His glory. And that is exactly the purpose and the vocation of every one of us sitting here or standing, to share in the glory of God Himself. So the purpose of our life and for this same mission, Jesus became man so that He can help us come to our heavenly Father, to be one with Him, to become one with Him, because we are not yet one with Him. We are creatures with many, many desires. Yes, even temptations, distractions, and often we pursue the distractions and forget about our vocation, our baptism promise that was set aside for God to bring about God’s holiness in our lives, so that God’s glory may fill the entire universe through you and through me. So we are stewards on this earth and in our own lives, to bear fruit. And, if you do not bear fruit, Jesus said you will be cut down as a useless, dried, dead branch and cast into the fire that never goes out. Those were Jesus’ own words. Very graphic for any simple mind like myself can grasp it. That’s why St. Francis, our founder, said, Be simple so people understand clearly. The message of Jesus could not be more clear and more simple. Simplicity is a virtue, a Franciscan virtue.
Jesus made this of His mission which He shared, and it is our vocation to come to God with fruits and having been transformed from sin into holiness. Jesus made that mission of His, why He came, known clearly. He said, “Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect“. Be holy. The Old Testament tells us, “Be holy, for I, your Lord am holy“. So please don’t say that, Well, I’m just a little creature and Almighty God is so great. What can I do? Yes, without Him you can’t, but He has given Himself to you already in baptism. St. Paul says, God’s love, His grace, has been poured into our hearts. Read that in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 5, vs. 5, easy to remember, Romans, 5, 5. The love of God has been poured into our hearts. The love of God, that is His sanctifying grace, the holiness of God, the very life of God is poured into our souls.
So, you see, the mission of Christ is so simple and easy, and it is for you and for me that you and I might come to our Heavenly Father safely with many fruits by which we merit. See how wonderful God arranged it, that we can merit heaven and we ought to merit heaven. In other words, in the effort and the work that God Himself is present in, God pulls us into it by allowing us to share in His work. Already we are building with His help. Without Him we couldn’t do it. He is there constantly with His presence, with His grace, with inspirations, with His teachings, with the sacraments, all the helps that you and I need, we have it. And, thus, we are already beginning to share in His glory, the exterior glory of God that is present in us when you and I are in sanctifying grace. I always urge the acolytes to prepare themselves for Holy Communion that they may worthily receive the Lord. And I impart that also to you. Make sure that you receive the Lord worthily, that is, in sanctifying grace, and sins have been forgiven and absolved, against which you and I have turned, turned against them, but turned to God, which is the true conversion, the meaning of conversion.
All these things spell out one thing, why Christ came among us, and what He is working at. And St. Paul in the Epistle you heard, His greatest joy in this life is for you and myself to be on our way and to save our souls. That is His greatest desire. St. John Vianney was a saint. He said, “With burning desire in my heart, I wish that you loved Him, that you do serve Him, that you obey Him, that you might be saved and not cast away”, because as Jesus said, you heard the last couple of Sundays, many are called, every one of us is being called, but few will be chosen. And those not chosen because they have not chosen God as the only end of their life, they will not make it. Phillip once asked the Lord, Will many be saved? Jesus said, “Get through the narrow gate, go by the narrow path which is difficult, filled with sacrifices, self-denial“. That is the narrow gate, the narrow path, self-denial. “If you wish to come after Me, you must deny yourself,” Jesus said. Very simple, very clearly, say no to your desires and say yes to God’s desires, which is the salvation of all. St. Paul says God desires the salvation of everyone, and the Church teaches that, that if men only have the desire for salvation, that they desire that, they want it, and they are cut down on the way, God will save them. That’s what the teaching of the Church has been, and has been misinterpreted by many traditional Catholics, which is not the teaching of the Church. Read in the dictionary back in the lobby, dictionary, The Catholic Dictionary, dated back in the 1940s. The teaching of the Church is this: that those who desire salvation — I’m not talking about this half-baked kind of desire. That’s not a desire. That’s deception. If anyone desires to be saved, they will be saved. We have the teaching of the Church and God’s promise for that.
Those who desire to be saved will be saved, and they will make sure that they do the things necessary for that. Jesus said to his apostles, “Don’t stop them. If they respect My Name, they are one with you“, because they did not walk with the apostles. And, yet, Jesus said, don’t stop them. So don’t put limitations on God’s grace. Yes, faith is necessary. Jesus said those who do not believe, they are already condemned. That is absolute. There is no way about it. Those who don’t believe in the Son of Man will be rejected by Him and by the Father. Now, you see, Our Lord, and St. Paul, as we read it today, they are both intent about one thing, your salvation and mine, that those in whom God has begun His good work will bring it to fruition, will bring it to completion. That’s the way we priests are also ordained in the service, we could here it in translation, that what God has begun in you may bring it to fullness. And that is not deprived of you, either, because God has begun a good work in baptism of yours, and you are to bring it to fulfillment by God’s grace, who is the one working even through you and independently of you at the same time. So your cooperation is necessary, beginning with a desire, and bring it to fulfillment. Don’t stop on the way.
What we learn today, how different the purpose and the works of those Pharisees that you and I heard in the gospel today, how different their aim was. They conspired with the Herodians. Now we know very little of the Herodians, but that we are certain of that they were pushing the card of Herod. That’s why they were called Herodians. They were a political party, not a religious organization, and not intent as the Pharisees were supposed to be intent on God’s word. So what did they do? They sank so low that they conspired, worked with and sought after the Herodians, the political party, for King Herod. And King Herod, as you know, had a very precarious background. He was not really fully a Jew. He was half pagan, half Jew, and he was clinging to his power and the Jews were wondering about him. So he made sure that he is acceptable to the people and he was going between the people and Rome. Rome gave him the allowance that he be the king. So he was swinging back and forth. And the people who were under the Roman rule, occupied by Roman soldiers so that they could tax them and they did, pay for the military machinery of Rome to sustain its’ power all over the Mediterranean and beyond, dependent on taxation. And the Jews saw this, the people, as a sign of oppression, no freedom. All sweat and blood has to go to Rome whom they hated. This was a nationalistic movement as you can easily grasp and understand. So they thought, these Pharisees, they got Jesus in their hand. They devised a clever trick. Choose. Are you supporting taxation? Are you supporting Rome? Do you approve of taxing, paying tribute to Caesar?, which would make Jesus the enemy of the nation and thus easily reject Jesus’ authority, sideline Him to the margin to ignore Him, to dismiss Him and do away with Him. That was the intent. Or, the other option that was in their minds was that it would say no to Rome, no to Caesar, no taxation to please the people. But, then, get Rome on His back and Rome would destroy Him as a rebel, a rebel rouser, a revolutionary. Jesus said very quickly, “You hypocrites.” He saw through their wickedness and you heard the wisdom spoken so simple, “Give to Caesar what belongs to him, and give to God what belongs to God.”
And that is also our way, too. We are here, we have body and soul, we have to be stewards, keep our body in good health. Don’t pamper it. Don’t spoil it, don’t go beyond. Be that balance. Make sure it is balanced. Don’t give in to the demands of the body, but those that are legitimate. But that’s not all. We have a supernatural soul, a vocation, to rise above the body and the world and sin and Satan, and come to the eternal life God wants to share with us. So be prudent and be wise as Jesus was wise. He is the wisdom and the power of God. He is our model, the true way, and the truth always lies in the middle, balanced, the center of everything. When you see the truth and you are respecting it and serving the truth which is God, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. Jesus must be your center and mine. Don’t follow anyone else’s distorted views but that of what Jesus teaches. That’s why I ask many of my penitents, not as a form of penance, but that you be familiar with the teachings, the person, the character, the figure of the Son of Man, Jesus. St. Paul calls Him the Glory of God, the visible manifestation of God’s glory. Be familiar with Him. Many Spanish-speaking people turn to Protestantism because they have not heard Jesus. They don’t teach them Jesus. Teach yourself Jesus. Be knowledgeable who Jesus is and what He teaches. Then you will be able to set aside the false opinions from the good ones. Immerse yourself in Jesus. Isn’t that what St. Paul said, that your charity may abound in knowledge of the truth. You heard in the Epistle today to the Philippians which he wrote from a prison in Rome with great joy, because he was so ardently desiring their salvation, it brought joy to him even in prison, which should be your joy and mine, working for our own salvation and those family members and friends that we cherish. And even neighbors, we have to be responsible for them because every Catholic is a missionary by God’s design. Everyone can be a missionary, which means reach out and hand over the message, the mission that you received from God for yourself and for your family. Share that with others. That’s being a missionary being sent not by me but by God Himself when He elected you to be His disciple through baptism.
So share, not in works of tricks and opinions and arguments which lead to no where, but follow the example of Our Lord Jesus, who is our truth and our salvation. Be faithful to Him and bear fruit that will last and God will bless you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.