Sunday, September 27, 2020

Have the Same Attitude as Christ

Vincentian Appeal Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 27, 2020. Reading: Philippians 2:1-11.  Theme: Have the Same Attitude as Christ

Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the famous 17th century saint whose name has become synonymous with charity and service to the poor. A very curious and interesting fact about St. Vincent is that, while his body has turned to dust as one would expect after several centuries, his heart remains incorrupt. Perfectly preserved without any intervention of science and without any scientific explanation.  

Miracles are meant to make us stop and think and so we must ask, “Why would God do this?” It seems to me that one possible answer is quite obvious:  the heart is a universal symbol of love and Vincent had cultivated within himself the same kind of love that was in the Heart of Christ. I think that maybe God is directing us, through this miracle of St. Vincent’s incorrupt heart, to imitate his tremendous love for and service to those who are in need.

St. Vincent took seriously the words that we heard in today’s second reading where St. Paul says: “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Vincent had that same attitude that was in Christ Jesus. The burning desire and motivation of St. Vincent’s whole ministry was to become the face and presence and touch of Jesus for all who were suffering in any way, In other words, he had a heart that was very much like the Heart of Christ Jesus.

St. Paul goes on to tell us that this humble attitude of Christ, moved God the Son to leave the glory of Heaven and become a human being, emptying himself of all power and loving us literally unto death.  This truth about Jesus inspired St. Vincent to give up a lucrative ladder-climbing position as chaplain to the French royalty.  He also emptied and humbled himself and became a slave, the servant of the poor, the sick, the suffering and the vulnerable. St. Vincent spent his life showing concrete mercy and tangible compassion to anyone in need. And ever since he died in 1660, there have been thousands of Catholics throughout the world who have caught a spark of that same fire from the Heart of Christ, from the heart of St. Vincent. They are called Vincentians, that is, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  

Several of them today are here among us today at St. Sebastian’s parish. As a matter of fact, we have been blessed to have had a group of Vincentians in our parish without interruption for that past 50 years, ministering to the poor and needy who live within our parish boundaries.  They meet together every month to pray and review the requests they receive for help from the needy.  They take turns going out in pairs to the homes of the poor so that they, like St. Vincent, can engage in direct personal service. 

Allow me to share with you some of the ways in which these Vincentians strive to love others with the Heart of Christ and the heart of St. Vincent. 

They go to the elderly who in addition to being fearfully isolated in their homes these days, have to decide whether to buy food or medicine with their limited budget because they can’t afford both…Vincentians bring help with both food and medicine.
They engage with families whose members take turns sleeping on the one mattress that they have in their tiny over-priced apartment…Vincentians bring help with furniture and bedding.
They minister to the unemployed and the under-employed who are literally just dollars away from being homeless every single month and who have the stress of living constantly under this pressure…Vincentians bring help with rental supplement assistance.
They bring help and consolation to the sick poor who have serious medical conditions and are often unable to pay for or arrange transportation for on-going medical care…Vincentians arrange transportation or even drive the people themselves if necessary.

These are all true scenarios from their Vincentian records and the good works I just described were all made possible only by your generous financial support. But right now, we are looking to the immediate future when the COVID restrictions end.  Our Vincentians will have a plethora of needy people who will have no clue as to how they will get by when several months-worth of back rent become due and delayed bills need to be paid. And I am not talking here about bills for frivolous things or recreational pleasures. I am talking heat, water, sanitation, childcare and medicine. For example, we actually just recently helped one poor woman, 101 years old, who had her garbage cans taken away and had to live with her trash because she was behind in her bill. Vincentians brought help by paying her bill.

Today is our once-a-year appeal from the pulpit for funds to finance these life-saving works of our Vincentians. The needs of the poor, sick and suffering within our parish boundaries can often require several thousand dollars a month. And amazingly, for 50 years and counting, our parish has always met the need because of your generosity. We have never had to say “no” to a genuine request for help. And I confident that your contributions will continue as the number and needs of the poor grows especially in the immediate post-COVID times. I realize that many of you are not prepared to donate to the Society today, but please take an envelope with you. You can find them out on the entrance table where there is also a basket to receive your donations. Makes check payable to St. Sebastian Society of St. Vincent de Paul. You can mail them in or drop them off at the parish office or bring them with you to Mass next Sunday. 

For the sake of the voiceless and the vulnerable, I pray that sparks from the Heart of Christ and the heart of St. Vincent will enkindle your own hearts, inspiring you to also become slaves of mercy and servants of compassion through your generous donations that make the relief of suffering possible. We honestly could not do it without you. God bless you!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Call to the Vineyard

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 20, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 20:1-16. Theme: The Call to the Vineyard

When people hear today’s Gospel most come away thinking, "That sure doesn't sound very fair to me! The guys who put in an hour's work ended up getting as much money as those who sweat it out in the sun all day long!"  Now, if Jesus had intended to give us a course in business ethics and hiring practices, then these people would be right!  But we must remember that this story is a parable, that is, a story told to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Parables were the main teaching tool that Jesus used because they make people stop and think.

So then, what is the lesson of this story? Well, to begin to understand it, we have to look at the symbolism used by Jesus. In this parable, the landowner is God. The vineyard is the Kingdom of Heaven. And the workers are you, me, and everyone on planet Earth. Now, it is also important to realize that Jesus told this parable while on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be arrested, tortured and crucified. The reason why the time and place of the telling of this parable is important, is because it has to do with our ultimate destiny: salvation, eternal life, a right relationship with God.

So, with all this in mind I think we can say that the meaning of the parable is actually threefold.  

First, we have to realize that the call to the vineyard originates with God, it is his initiative. This is important to remember because it teaches us something that, it seems to me, most people I meet - including many Catholics - seem to forget: that we have no right to Heaven, to eternal life. We often hear people speak as if Heaven is something we earn or something we deserve because we lived a "good life".  I'm sure some of you have encountered this when hearing about someone who has died. People might say something like, "He was such a good man, surely he’s in Heaven." Or "She was always so good to others, if she’s not in Heaven I don't know who is!" 

But we humans, as a result of the free decision of our first parents, Adam and Eve, said “no thanks” to God's original invitation to Paradise, to the Vineyard.  They chose to live life on their own terms and according to their own desires instead of in obedience to God. And we cannot simply blame Adam and Eve for this loss, because each time we personally choose to sin, we show that we are in agreement with their reply.

And that brings us to the second point I would like to make. God gives each one of us a second chance - or in reality many chances - to think about and change our reply from that which was given by Adam and Eve. He calls each one of us in a particular and individual way and at a particular time in our lives when we might be most open to saying “yes” to his invitation. He does this because he is so very eager for us to say yes and RSVP with all our hearts!

We see this marvelous mystery of God’s selection all the time, even within our own little slice of life. I have seen it in my own family.  My wife was called as an infant, born into a practicing believing Catholic family and raised to live life daily in awareness of God. On the other hand, I was called a bit later in life as a young adult, influenced by my Evangelical Protestant classmates and following a round-about route to becoming a practicing Catholic Christian. And there are still those who are called at the eleventh hours, such as my father at 86 years of age, just a month before leaving this world for the next. That’s one of the great mysteries of salvation, of the free and unmerited call of God. So, it shows me that we must never give up on anyone! The last sentence, of the last chapter, in the story of their life might be a real game-changer!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

70 x 7

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 13, 2020.  Gospel of St. Matthew 18:21-35. Theme: 70 x 7


The theme for today’s Liturgy, echoed in our readings and prayers, is something so important that the Church knows we need to hear it over and over again: forgive, forgive, forgive!  I think this repetitive emphasis comes from the fact that extending mercy and an olive branch to someone who has hurt us is probably one of the most difficult things for a person to do. And the deeper the wound, the harder it is to forgive.  But it’s vital for us to realize as humans and as Christians that we should forgive, we need to forgive and we can forgive.


First, we should forgive because if we don’t we are actually rejecting God’s mercy for ourselves. I honestly think that most of us do not keep in mind the reality of this pre-condition for our own forgiveness which Jesus clearly laid out before us. He says it several times throughout the Gospels and in various ways. Today he puts it like this: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” Referring back to the parable in today’s Gospel what Jesus is saying is that, we will receive only the amount of mercy and forgiveness that we ourselves give out.   This is just another way of expressing what the great St. Augustine called the “terrifying petition” of the Our Father, in which we ask God to only forgive us to the extent to which we ourselves forgive others. So, you see, for our own good, we should forgive.


Secondly, we need to forgive otherwise we will destroy ourselves. Can you imagine a world or better yet a family in which everyone refuses to forgive? How cold, callous and cruel it would be to have to live out our days in such an environment.  There would be no meaningful expression of love. No inner serenity. No laughter or contentment. Actually, that’s a pretty good description of Hell, isn’t it?  To refuse to forgive is to condemn ourselves to a slow and emotionally painful death by allowing past hurts to remain like radioactive material within us, gradually poisoning us from the inside out. We need to forgive is we want to live life to the fullest both here and hereafter.


Forgiveness might seem nearly impossible for many of us to accomplish. But we have to remember that to forgive is not to condone a terrible thing that someone has done. It does not mean, “What you did to me was OK, let’s just forget about it.” No, forgiveness means that although we recognize the damage done, we freely choose to move beyond it.  We intentionally refuse to take revenge because we know that this will in reality make us worse off and damage us further. The anger, growing resentment and seeds of hatred that accompany the decision to get even will become a spiritual cancer in our lives. We become entrapped in a toxic attitude that reaches out and poisons all our relationships in one way or another.


Lastly, we can forgive because Jesus gives us the power to do so. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is like a great river of forgiveness that keeps flowing through all centuries and generations until the end of time. Its supernatural power is made available to us especially at every Eucharist. When we discover the need to forgive someone and find it hard to do so, we can ask Christ in prayer to pour out this water upon us and soften the hardness of our hearts.  This persistence in prayer can transform us from bit by bit from being a victim into being a healer. It might be very hard to do at first, but if we humbly persevere God will enlighten us to see the perpetrator as someone who has also been hurt and is in need of healing.


Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist that we celebrate, worship and receive can empower us to become healers and peacemakers from the inside out.  Through our frequent and faithful communion with him, he will show us how to love as he loves.  He will enable us to make our forgiving an act of genuine mercy toward the offender. Christ, living in us, will give us the strength to overcome negative attitudes of retaliation and to become a person of compassion because we ourselves want mercy from God. So, you see, we should forgive. We need to forgive. And we can forgive because with God all things are possible.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Speak, Respect and Heal

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 6, 2020. Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Gospel of St. Matthew 18:15-20.  Theme: Speak, Respect, and Heal

The three readings of today’s liturgy remind me of a famous saying that is the most frequently quoted of the modern era: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  It means that we all, each one of us, have ownership of the world we live in.  It means that we all, each one of us, have a responsibility to confront evil in our culture and promote goodness.

And yet so few people really do. It goes against the grain of those who say they just need to mind their own business and not get involved in the lives of others. Yet they are usually among the first to whine and complain about the state of things in our nation today, be it COVID or economics or politics or the riots taking place in various cities. But as Christians we have an obligation to speak out, to be respectful while doing so, and to promote healing based on truth and love in our society. It seems to me that this is the message that are readings are conveying to us today.

First, as disciples of Christ, we have the responsibility to speak. The prophet Ezekiel in our first reading calls us to be like watchmen, who were the ones who alerted the people to approaching danger. We are to speak out and warn others of dangers than lie ahead, of lies being spread in the name of political power and social manipulation. Being bearers of the light of Christ and recipients of the unerring Word of God, we have a moral duty to speak the truth about right and wrong, to point out error and deceit.

How can we, as disciples of Christ, say nothing when the safety of the unborn and the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable are being attacked?  How can our consciences applaud us if we remain quiet while our society distances itself more and more from our Creator who has given us the inalienable rights we cherish as Americans?  As disciple of Christ, how can we fall silent when we hear politicians adamantly declare themselves to be “good Catholics” and then in the same breath advocate for public policies that insult and contradict the Gospel of Life that Jesus came to preach? For us to say nothing is to become complicit in the lies ad wrongs that are being done. If we speak and others refuse to listen then so be it, but at least we have spoken. At least we have done our duty before God and our neighbor. This is the message of the prophet.

Secondly, as disciples of Christ, we also have a duty to be respectful and patient with those who are not speaking the truth. This is something that is very much absent in our times. St. Paul tells us that we have a duty to respect the lives and relationships and property of others, even if we tag them as our “opponents”. This is desperately missing in today’s social interactions and conversations where disagreement with the acceptable public narrative - promoted by the dominant mainline media and fueled by organized violence - can cause someone to lose their occupation or worse, even their very life.

We Christians must lead by example.  We need to make sure that the conversations and debates that we have in daily life, or that we engage in online, are tempered with this personal respect and come from a place of genuine love for our neighbor. Our duty is to contain and extinguish the social-political fires not spread them!

Finally, as disciples of Christ, we are called to be healers in our very fractured and wounded society. And we all know full well that this division and mean-spiritedness is happening even within some of our own families and at some of our workplaces. Our Gospel reading reminds us that there is a way of dealing with conflict and divisiveness that is not based on rage or seeking revenge. The discipline, effort and patience needed for us to become peace-makers, to bind up wounds and heal discord, is another way of showing Christian responsibility. We refuse to become part of the problem and choose instead to become part of the solution because we know that through, with, and in Christ we can make a difference by promoting this healing process within pour own little slice of life!

As Catholic Christians, we are fully equipped to meet this social challenge because of the Eucharist that we celebrate, receive and adore.  At the Eucharist, we hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained and so are taught the truth that we must speak.  At the Eucharist, we come into intimate communion with Jesus the Bread of Life, and receive the power of his presence within us, enabling us to become channels of his healing mercy to our brothers and sisters, no matter who they may be. Through our devotion to the Eucharist we are strengthened in our resolve as Christians to be counted among those good people who do not and will not allow evil to triumph. Not on our watch!Deacon David Previtali · Speak, Respect and Heal