Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, September 2, 2012, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, "Doers of the the Word", Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ


Sunday 22 OT B 9/2/12 St. Mary of the Angels

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18,21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

My Brothers and Sisters,

Whenever election time comes around, you can be sure that someone wants to "take back America" or promises to "change it," or "turn it around," or vows "responsibility" in the face of irresponsibility, etc. etc. This year, we have heard all of the above and also an interesting, though scary, addition, the claim: "We built it." But, just who is the "we"? And what is the "it"?

"We built it" reminds me of those who long ago said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky and so make a name for ourselves." And so, they built the Tower of Babel. Well, we know how that story ended: with a confusion of communication which continues to the present day!

No wonder, the Psalmist cautions all of us, "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build."

Buildings, whether churches, hospitals, schools, businesses, or houses, are simply buildings. They may be beautiful or they may be ugly. Beautiful buildings do please the eye and can lift the spirit. But, more important than beautiful buildings is what goes on inside those buildings.

In churches, are we worshipping with our hearts as well as our lips?

In hospitals, are we healing souls as well as bodies?

In schools, are we educating the heart as well as the mind?

In businesses, are we paying more attention to people than to products?

In houses, are we creating homes or just fashioning furniture?

As Jesus also points out so powerfully today, what is important is not what the outside looks like but what the inside looks like. The issue here in the Gospel is about cleanliness. The Pharisees wanted to make sure that the outside, whether of hands or cups, or jugs or kettles was clean. But Jesus claimed that the real dirt that needs cleaning up is on the inside: "evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder," etc. St. James, in the second reading, then, points out what real cleanliness does look like. He writes, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Real religion concerns itself with the most vulnerable of society. Then, it was orphans and widows. Today, we would add, "immigrants and veterans, children and the elderly, prisoners and the mentally sick. It is said that a nation is judged by how it takes care of the weakest members of society. We can say that a church is judged by how love of God expressed in worship unites with love of neighbor expressed in service. How, then, as a nation and Church, can we allow 20 per cent of our people to live below the poverty line? How can we impede health care for all? This week, when Hurricane Isaac struck New Orleans exactly seven years to the day when Katrina devastated the city, (Note that biblical number: 7!) can we not see that God is sending a clear message to make "green" our world or face increasing annihilation? If we do not pay attention to the poor today, will we not have to pay for crime and violence tomorrow? And, if we do not control the destructive potential of guns, surely, each act of violence will wound and kill a wider audience, which someday may include you and me. These are all big issues!

No wonder Jesus was upset with the narrow minded Pharisees and their pre-occupation with external details! How much easier it is to fuss around with external cleanliness and numerous details than to look hard at one’s selfishness and greed of heart and make the choices and sacrifices necessary for the common good. Entitlements? Neither the rich nor the poor are entitled to anything. All is a gift from God. We did not build this country by ourselves nor did we gain our wealth without the suffering of others. We have been given so much and handed on so much to work with. God calls us to be faithful stewards of his gifts, to see that we work together for the good of all people – people of other nations too! – and to offer opportunities to those who need them the most for survival.

A little earlier, I mentioned that it does not matter so much whether a building is beautiful or ugly; what matters is what takes place inside that building. I think that it is safe to say that St. Mary of the Angels is not exactly one of the beautiful churches in the Archdiocese of Boston! But, we can claim that few churches hold inside the spiritual dynamism of this church community. We rejoice in this inner life expressed in outward action. In the words of St. James, we want to be "doers of the word and not hearers only." Still, there is even more that we can be and do. We need to encourage one another and we need to invite others to work along with us. I believe that there are good people out there, people stirred by God’s grace, but who have not yet heard the call, the invitation, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard. The Kingdom of God is not something we build. The Kingdom of God is God’s gift to us in Jesus. But, we are invited to labor in the Lord’s vineyard so that the values of God’s Kingdom may flourish more strongly among us.

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