Monday, October 27, 2008

Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My wife and I moved to New Orleans 24 years ago via New York, Rhode Island, California, Florida and South Carolina. When we first arrived, we had a lot to learn about living in New Orleans. We learned to say “New Or-le-uns”, or “N’Awlins” and not “New Or-leens”. We learned that the people who live in Algiers are “Algerines”, not “Algierians.” We learned about “banquets” and “neutral grounds” and we learned about Mardi Gras. You always step on the doubloon before you pick it up!

All these things we learned and finally took to heart by watching and imitating those around us, and by practice. Now we meet people who think we’re actually from New Orleans, and not “Damn Yankees” that “came for a visit and never left!”

Life is like that. We find ourselves constantly imitating, watching, learning, practicing. Some of you probably played, or are now playing, sports in school. To become skilled you had to imitate those athletes who were ahead of you, and practice your skills to get better yourself. Dance, another popular pastime in New Orleans judging from all the dance schools that abound, is the same way. To become a good dancer you watch, imitate and practice.

“Practice makes perfect.”

As Catholics, when we “practice” our faith we are called to love our neighbor.

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he commends them for the manner in which they imitated him and his followers who had come among them to live and spread the Gospel message. He praised them for “casting aside” their pagan ways and taking on the way of Christ, living as he and his followers had lived when they were among them. St. Paul and his followers were imitation Jesus, and now the Thessalonians, by imitating St. Paul were also imitating Jesus.

We, too, are called to be imitators, of Paul, of Jesus, of the Thessalonians. Like the Thessalonians we have to “cast aside” our own pagan ways, our “false gods”. We have to reprioritize our lives, with God first, rather than power, money, popularity, possessions.

How can we imitate Jesus? We imitate him by following his commandments. In our Gospel reading today, a Pharisee asked Jesus which commandment of the Law was the greatest. When we Christians think of commandments, we probably think “ten”. We’re most familiar with the ten commandments. But the Jews had 613 commandments! So the Pharisee was asking not which of the ten, but rather which of the 613 commandments was the greatest. And of course we hear Jesus answer that the greatest is to “Love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds”. And he adds to this to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. If we truly follow these commandments then the rest will fall into place.

Who is our neighbor, and how do we love him? Well, my house number is 524, so my neighbors would be 520 and 526, and maybe across the street at 523 and 525? Of course not! Our first reading gives us a clue. God tells the Israelites to care for the “aliens” in their country, and for the widows and orphans. They are to care for those who are outcast, who are in need, who are suffering and persecuted. These are our neighbors. Not just family, friends, the people on our block. We are called to seek out and assist in whatever way we are able those who can’t help themselves. This is how we “love our neighbor”. This is how we imitate Christ. This is how we “practice” our faith.

And why is it so important that we do this? Why should we be imitators of Christ? Why should we practice our faith? Because our God is a covenant God. He made a coventant through Moses with the Israelites. In that covenant he promised to lead them out of slavery to the “holy land”. And he keeps his promises. He did lead the Israelites to the holy land. And now he has made a new covenant. He made a covenant through Jesus with us. And in this covenant he has promised to bring us to the eternal holy land, to heaven itself! THAT is why it is so important to imitate Christ, to follow his commandments, to “practice our faith”!

But, in order to practice our faith, it’s important to know what that faith is. It is important to know what being “Catholic” stands for. We, as a worshiping people, make up the Church that Christ founded with Peter, and we are the body of that Church, with Christ our Lord as its head. We know that when the priest says the words of consecration at the altar, the awesome power of God, through the Holy Spirit, transforms the ordinary bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of our Lord so that he is present totally with us, as present as if he were sitting right here in one of the pews. He “has NOT left us orphans”.

There are many ways that we can show love of neighbor, beginning right here in our parish. I would like to suggest a few. Perhaps we might find time to join the Men’s Club or the K of C, worthy organizations that do much good work in our parish and our communities. Or maybe we could increase our spiritual lives through organizations like the Third Order of Mary, or Nucleus. Our Youth Group can always use new members, and new adult sponsors. Or, you might like to help pass on the faith by teaching a CCD class, or some other form of religious instruction. Maybe we would like to increase our personal knowledge of our faith through a bible study or prayer group. These are all wonderful “starting” points as we begin to try to be better imitators of St. Paul and of Christ, as we try to be better practicing Catholics.

As we approach the altar today to receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, be mindful of the statue of Christ crucified. It represents perfect love, perfect sacrifice. It represents the ideal to which we should all aspire. Christ is perfect love. The more we imitate Christ, the more perfect becomes our ability to love.

And when we leave church today, as we go out into “the world”, we should keep in mind that it is our duty to be “practicing Catholics” not just today, but tomorrow, and Tuesday, and Wednesday… Every day we are called to live our faith, loving all we come into contact with. We have to practice our faith daily. “Practice makes perfect.” – God bless you all!!


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