TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
September 6, 2020

FIRST READING (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)

Refrain: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

1) Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him. (Refrain:)

2) Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. (Refrain:)

3) Oh, that today you would hear his voice: "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works." (Refrain:)

SECOND READING (Romans 13:8-10)

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

GOSPEL (Matthew 18:15-20)

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)

Homily

The Power of Community Prayer

The story is told of a man who was rescued from a deserted island after many years there. His rescuers looked around and saw three huts and wondered why he needed three of them. He replied, "Oh, the first one is where I live and the second one is where I go to church". What about the third one they asked? "Oh, that is where I used to go to church!"

In this age when attendance at church has been diminishing across the denominational landscape, people have been finding all kinds of reasons not to go to church regularly. Just a couple of years ago, our own Bishop David O’Connell commissioned a study as to why Catholics don’t go to Mass regularly. The answers at that time centered around the ongoing sexual abuse by priests and the fact that the homilies didn’t touch them in their daily lives. Some people responded that they tried different parishes in the area but most said they just stopped going. (1)

This is sad because I think these people have lost something that should be a very important part of their lives, namely, community. Because God created us in His own image, which is a relationship of Father, Son and Spirit, it should be no surprise to us that we exist in communities. Our families are communities, our neighborhoods are communities. Our parishes should also be communities where we feel welcome.

But those who have separated themselves from a parish community have also lost something else: the power of community prayer to effect change in their lives and the lives of others. In today’s gospel passage, our Lord tells us that “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father” and “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. So if what he tells us in these verses is true, why do our prayers sometimes appear to go unanswered? One of my favorite commentators has some revealing things to say about this.

I think there is much wisdom in what he says. For example, we may pray for the healing of loved ones and when that does not happen, we believe that God has not heard our prayers. It is only through our faith that we come to trust in the wisdom of God’s providential care for us.

I’m sure many of you have either read the book Heaven Is for Real or have seen the movie by now. For those of you who haven’t, it is about a three-year-old boy named Colton who is taken to a hospital complaining of stomach pains. Tests are performed on him for five days with no success in finding the cause before he is transported to another hospital. There they perform an MRI on him and discover that he has a burst appendix. Since his intestinal tract has been filling up with poisons for those five days, the prognosis is not good. He is rushed into the operating room for surgery.

His father, Todd, is the author of the book and also a minister and his wife’s name is Sonja. Once Todd finds out the seriousness of the situation, he writes the following:

After the surgery, and some intensive care, he appears to be recovering. However, just as he is about to be released, a test reveals another infection and the need for a second operation. While Colton is recovering from this procedure, Todd writes the following:

I think this story demonstrates very effectively the power of community prayer. As we approach the beginning of fall and eventually the start of the Christmas season, how can we not recall the beginning of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey’s family and friends pray for his safe return. And as a result of their prayers, God sends the angel Clarence to save him from committing suicide. May we never forget to storm the gates of heaven with our prayers, just like the members of Todd’s church did. And may we never forget to do so not only individually, but more importantly, communally.

References

See Why They Left by William J. Byron and Charles Zech. From America, April 30, 2012. Take a look at the comments on this article while you're there!

  1. From the Daily Study Bible by William Barclay.
  2. From Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo, pp. 94-97. Copyright 2010 by HIFR Ministries, Inc. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.

(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net )

Homily

The Strength of Faith

Today's gospel passage can really be broken down into three sections: the first part about fraternal correction, the second part about forgiveness and lastly, the effectiveness of prayer. What unites all of the parts of this passage is the fact that they all have to do with community, specifically, though not exclusively, with the community of believers which is the church. Our faith is not lived in isolation, unless we elect to do so in religious orders, but in community with others. This community begins with our families and extends outwards to include our neighbors, our co-workers and others with whom we interact on a regular basis. And most certainly it includes those with whom we worship in community. Without this community, our faith will die. Consider the following story.

One of the songs that we sing frequently has these words:

Then there is the song Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether which reminds us:

Both of these songs remind us in no uncertain terms that we must never forget that no one is an island but exists only in community with others.

Later this week, we will remember the tragedies of 9/11 which none of us will ever forget. We will never forget where we were when we got the news of the first airplane strike, just as we won't ever forget (if we're old enough to remember) where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot or that the shuttle Challenger had exploded during launch. Our lives will never be the same even if we did not lose an immediate family member in it.

The thing that was so remarkable to me was that our Masses the following Sunday were as packed as they would normally be on Christmas or Easter. Why was this? I believe it was because we were all trying to make sense out of these senseless tragedies. We needed strength and guidance, so we turned to one another and to our faith.

There are many stories that have come out of the tragedies of September 11th, but probably none more compelling than that of the passengers of Flight 93 which crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. And out of them all, the most remarkable story for me was that of Todd Beamer, who lived with his wife, Lisa, and their children in Cranbury, NJ, not far from here. The following story about his actions on that plane appeared in Newsweek in December 2001.

To me, this story speaks to all three parts of today's gospel passage: Todd drew strength from his community, namely, the others who would storm the cockpit with him; he forgave the hijackers, as his wife Lisa attested; and he prayed for strength in his hour of need using the prayers with which he was so familiar. It is important to note that he didn't pray alone: he recited the Lord's Prayer together with the operator, and then shared Psalm 23 with his comrades in heroism.

As we arrive at the date which will certainly live in infamy along with December 7th, 1941 here in the US, we can do no better than to follow Todd's example. First of all, we need to draw strength from our faith communities and know that we are not alone in remembering these tragedies and trying to overcome the effects they have inevitably had on our lives. Secondly, we need to forgive others, just as Todd forgave the hijackers, because it is only through forgiveness that we rise above the anger and hatred of those who have hurt us. And lastly, we need to pray together as a community that God will touch all those whose hearts have been hardened by hatred. For no amount of bombs, or even humanitarian aid, will accomplish this end. Only God can accomplish in the hearts of mankind what no human can. "For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

References

1. In Community Is Strength. Reprinted with permission from Sower's Seeds, p. 72. Copyright 1990 by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ.

2. From We Are Many Parts by Marty Haugen. Copyright 1980, 1986 by GIA Publications, Inc., 7404 S. Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638. Choral Number G2917.

3. From Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether. Text by Percy Dearmer, copyright Oxford University Press. Music by Harold Friedell, copyright 1957 by H.W. Gray Co. Inc, renewed 1985 and assigned to Belwin-Mills Publishing Corp.

4. From the Faith of Todd Beamer .

5. More info on Dateline's interview with Lisa Beamer can be found at Lisa Beamer's Strength.

(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net )

Homily

The Community of Believers

Today's gospel passage can really be broken down into two sections: the first part about fraternal correction and the second part about the effectiveness of prayer. And although there is much question about whether or not our Lord actually used the words in the first part, there is no question about the validity of its directives. Whenever we have a disagreement with anyone, we should always first address the problem on a one-to-one basis. If that fails, we should then involve one or two other neutral parties to try to reach some understanding. Rabbis have a wise saying: "Judge not alone, for none may judge alone save the One (who is God)". Failing this, we should use the Christian assembly which is the Church.

If all else fails, they should be treated like a Gentile or tax collector. This is a difficult saying, because Gentiles and tax collectors were not welcome into the Jewish religion. Thus, the meaning would be that they would be excommunicated. However, we also must realize that our Lord showed much love to Gentiles and tax collectors during his lifetime. The Samaritan woman at the well eventually became a saint of the church because of Christ's intercession; the significance of the words of the Roman centurion whose son was cured is demonstrated by the fact that they are still used in every liturgy: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and my son (soul) shall be healed". And with respect to tax collectors, Matthew, the writer of this gospel, was a tax collector who became an apostle. And Jesus ate at the home of another tax collector, Zaccheus, after he told him to come down from the tree. So our Lord showed by his actions that he loved everyone equally, even the Gentiles and tax collectors.

Then we come to the second half of our passage in which we are once again reminded that if we forgive someone on earth, then they will be forgiven in heaven. We are also advised about the efficacy, or effectiveness, of communal prayer (that is, prayer that is not individual). And finally we are reminded that wherever two or three are gathered in prayer, there God is present also.

What unites both parts of this passage is the fact that they both have to do with community, specifically, though not exclusively, with the community of believers which is the church. Whether or not Jesus actually spoke these words as they have been handed down to us is insignificant when compared with the wisdom which is contained in these verses of Matthew's gospel. And what comes across very clearly here, first of all, is that in dealing with others who have wronged us, or whom we believe to have wronged us, we need to be willing to take the first step towards righting that wrong.

As Paul tells the Romans in the second reading: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In other words, we should review all of our actions to make sure that they are founded on love, not on revenge or some other unchristian motive. With a little prodding from his teacher, this man was able to reach out to his father and close the chasm which had come between them.

Although this healing took place between a son and his father, it had wider ramifications with the son's wife and his mother, as well as in the son's workplace. So it is that anything we do will have ramifications beyond the immediate participants. If we are angry with someone, or even with ourselves, that anger will spill over into our interactions with others. That is because none of us exists in a vacuum. We are part of a community: a community of our family, a community of our neighborhood, a community where we work, a community of believers.

In hearing the word community, I am reminded of a small parish of some 450 or so families in New York State to which my family belonged for about three years while I was their choir director and organist. There were two examples which come to mind. First of all, when our youngest daughter was born, members delivered a fully-prepared hot dinner to our home every evening for a week while my wife was recovering from the delivery. I certainly appreciated this kindness at the time since I am nothing to shout about in the kitchen. And secondly, just before Advent began, each family would fill out a form which included the names and ages of each of the family members. They were collected before Mass and placed in a large drum. After Mass, each participating family picked out a form. This family became their "Advent family" and each week of Advent, they sent a card to them (anonymously, of course), or baked them something which was left at church or did something else very special for them. At Christmas, each family then placed an ornament on one of the trees in the sanctuary which was addressed to their Advent family and which disclosed their names as well. There are other ways in which this community came together also, but I think you get the point.

But as part of a Christian community, we are called to do more than care for the material needs of other members. We are also called to communal prayer, which our Lord assures us will be answered by his heavenly Father. So why do our prayers often appear to go unanswered? More than likely, it is because we are praying for our own needs. But in assuring us that our communal prayers will be answered, our Lord is calling us beyond prayer for our own individual concerns to prayer for the needs of the wider community.

I also recall in my previous parish the wake and funeral of an 18 year old youth. A father and mother endured what no parent should ever have to endure: the loss of a child. At the wake, her mother spoke the words which I had said to myself as I drove to the hospital some years ago after my son was hit by a car while trick-or-treating one Halloween: why couldn't it have been me? Any parent would willingly take the place of their child in order to prevent them from harm. But this is exactly why God sent his only Son to earth to become one like us: to save us from eternal damnation.

At times like this, there are only two places to turn for strength: to our faith and to our community. It is only in our faith that we can believe that she will be cared for by a God who is love. It is only in our faith that we can believe that her sins will be forgiven because only God knows the demons she was fighting in her life, the same demons and temptations that we all fight every day of our lives, as we discussed in last week's gospel. And finally it is only our faith which enables us to believe the words from today's gospel that our communal prayers will be answered. If we truly believe that, then I would ask that each of you offer a prayer every evening this week that God will welcome her home and that God will give her parents the strength to endure and to persevere in their faith, a faith which has been so sorely tested this past week. For “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father”. If there was ever a time which cried out for our prayers, this is it. Become a part of this community in the most fundamental way possible: in communal prayer with one another. For it is only in communal prayer that we can be assured that God will hear us and answer us. Then and only then do we truly become a “community of believers”.

Reference

1. Do It Now. Copyright 1995 by Dennis E. Mannering. Used with permission of the author. (Dennis is the author of How Good Managers Become Great Leaders, plus several audio-cassettes including Motivation In Action. He may be reached at Options Unlimited, 617 Sunrise Lane, Green Bay, WI. 54305 or 1-800-236-3445.) From Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul, copyright 1996 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Patty Hansen, pp. 24-25. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.

(Copyright 2008 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for oral use in whole or in part in local communities. For permission to use in written form, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net )

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)

September 6, 2020

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you call us to forgive one another as you have forgiven us our sins. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you have taught us to persevere in our prayer. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you have taught us that wherever two or three are gathered in your name, there you are in their midst. Lord, have mercy.

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A)

September 6, 2020

Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: Our Lord has taught us that if two of us agree on anything for which we are to pray that God will grant it to us. Therefore, confident that Christ will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, teach us to forgive."

That the leaders of the Church will teach the gospel of forgiveness with conviction and compassion, we pray to the Lord.

That forgiveness will replace hatred, and mercy will replace vengeance in areas torn by war and violence, especially in the Middle East, we pray to the Lord.

That the sick, the terminally ill and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will be at peace with their circumstances, we pray to the Lord.

That we will come to forgive all those who have hurt us and ask forgiveness of all those we may have hurt, we pray to the Lord.

That our remembrance of the tragedies of September 11th will strengthen our resolve to be agents of reconciliation in our families, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, we pray to the Lord.

That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.

That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Merciful Father, your Son has taught us to seek reconciliation with those who have sinned against us and, in doing so, to experience the healing of our own hearts. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to put into action what he has taught us. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.