The words of Moses are just as apropos for you and me as they were for Israel more than 3000 years ago. Affluence doesn’t make you grateful. It is sometimes the people who have lost everything but life itself who are the most grateful. Moses sums up his message to the Hebrew people, and to us, like this: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Poet Rudyard Kipling obviously had this scripture in mind when he wrote his famous poem, Recessional: “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget--lest we forget!” That’s the message we need to take with us as we go back to our nice homes and wonderful families and as we feast on the Thanksgiving turkey: “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget--lest we forget!” May we always be a people of Gratitude! A Blessed Thanksgiving to all of you!
The question for us this Sunday morning is this: Are you prepared? Do you have oil for your lamp? Who knows what tomorrow may bring for any of us? Who knows what kind of severe test we might confront? On the other hand, who knows what door of opportunity might also open? None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. Jesus was giving us lifegiving advice when He said, “Stay awake, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Even though we may think we have everything under control, life can throw us some nasty curves. Be prepared! Of course, the most important preparation we can make concerns our relationship with God. Our Gospel is about being prepared for Christ’s return. And the only possible preparation we could make for that final day would be our spiritual readiness. Like those ominous billboards we used to see along the highways, “Are you ready to meet your Maker?” But that’s true of all of life. Our spiritual preparation will determine how we will handle the ups and downs of life, the successes and failures, the heartaches and the celebrations. Are you in training spiritually? Are you drawing closer to God each day? Don’t be foolish about life. Eternal Life comes to the man or the woman who is spritually prepared!
Pride of position was more important to the Pharisees than service to people. Appearances were more important to them than authenticity. Jesus was the very opposite of the Pharisees. Jesus was concerned with what is in the heart and not how things appear on the outside. The most effective witness we can make to our faith in Christ is simply to live out what we say we believe. Fake news? Fake Faith? Fake piety? Fake devotion? As St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel always ... use words only when necessary!"
Why do we give back to God? We do it out of gratitude for all God’s done for us and because we love Him. We give because everything already belongs to Him and we are but stewards of His bounty. And we do it because we know that God will take what we give to Him and will bless it and cause it to go further than we can possibly imagine. Give unto Caesar? We don’t have much choice. Give unto God? That is a wonderful privilege!
What an important message: Jesus, the stone that was rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Jesus, who was rejected, now reigns at the right hand of God the Father. What we need to see today is that this same Jesus can help us when we feel rejected. Christ was rejected that we might be reconciled to God. Because He knows what it is to be rejected, He can help us with our feelings of hurt and despair. There are many of you for whom the pain of rejection is all too real. Hang in there. There is a man with nail prints in His hands and feet who says it really does matter that you keep going. And remember, there are those who need you to be their wounded healer just as Christ has ministered to you.
Jesus told a parable about two brothers. One told his father that he wouldn’t work in the vineyard, but he repented, and did do the work his father asked him to do. His brother said, “Sure, Pop,” when he was given the same assignment, but never did. Which, asked Jesus, did the will of his father? It’s important to do what we say we will do, to be a promise keeper for we live in an era of unkept promises. On this Respect Life Sunday, we must ask ourselves: are we faithful to our promise to treat all life (from conception to natural death) as a gift and and blessing and not as a burden? Yes, all gifts sometimes bring suffering ... but we are a people who have unwavering hope in the Gospel of Life and Joy!
What is there within us that judges our lives not on the basis of what we have received, but on the basis of what we have received in relation to others? Of course, when that gift happens to be the gift of eternal salvation, the principle is even more critical. Shall we who know and love the Lord Jesus not rejoice whenever any person receives that grace as well, whether they receive it as a child, as a teenager, or at 98 years of age after a life of total degradation? God is hopelessly in love with humanity. There is nothing He will not give to save us from sin and death. But why make Him wait till we are on our deathbed? Why wait until the jungle has ensnared us and defaced our divine dignity? Why not make a good confession today and rejoice that our faith is a blessing and not a burden?
Do we know what we have as Catholics? We have what the world desperately needs--a Savior and a parish family. We are not simply an assembly of individuals. We are the body of Christ. God has called us into a sacred community. He has called us to be His own family. We may not be articulate theologians but we can be a friend to one another and to the world outside. That is our task. That is the ministry to which Christ has called us--to be a caring community. To reach out arms of sympathy and support to those who are in distress. To rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Faith is not so much believing this thing or that about God as it is hearing a voice which says, ‘Come unto Me.’ We hear the voice and then we start to go without really knowing what to believe either about the voice or about ourselves. And yet we go. Faith at this point is standing in the darkness, and a hand is there, and we take it. We take the hand of God and then we reach out in the darkness and we take hold of the hand of a neighbor. That is who we are and what we are about. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love . . .”
The world doesn’t revolve around us. Our first priority is to Christ and His kingdom. That means more than simply keeping the commandments. It means loving God and His people more than any worldly treasure. It means, in short, denying ourselves and following Jesus who gave His life for us and for the entire world. Many people claim to be Christ followers. However, there is absolutely nothing in their lives that would signify this except, perhaps, attendance at Mass. They are not sharing their faith with others. They are not volunteering in their communities. They are not giving to those who are down and out. As we have asked several times over the past few weeks, are you a follower of Christ or simply a fan? It makes a difference!
“Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” asked Jesus. And, for once, Simon Peter got it right, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Who is Christ to you . . . and what difference does it make in your life? Listen to Fr. Cooper's Sunday Homily and be inspired on your journey as a follower of Jesus!