24th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 13 September 2020
Mass Readings: I: Sirach 27:30-28-28:7; Responsorial: Psalm 103; II: Romans 14:7-9; Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
The year of 2020 is clearly a year of intense trials and challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic continues unabated. The political strife also increases as election day draws closer. And the past few weeks has seen the entire west coast besieged with wildfires of which even some secular reporters and politicians are referring to now as “Apocalyptic”. Even at midday the skies have been orange and yellow and so dark that lights have needed to be turned on as we seek to navigate these times.
Golden Gate Bridge ~ Week of September 6 at Midday
The longing of many is for the fires, the smoke, the ash to end. Most everyone is deeply weary of these…tribulations. And while we are weary most everyone finds the need to talk of all that is happening. As the discussions flourish many seek to point blame in our need to understand WHY? Depending on the beliefs and the political correctness of the person the blame may go towards poor forest management, climate change or political ineptness. Some are even starting to say this is a judgement for as one Washington politician stated “Mother Earth is Mad”! That statement, in many ways, is an affirmation of Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…“.
How serious is all this? To the thousands evacuated, often with no home to which to return, it is deadly serious. For those who have fallen sick or lost loved ones the Covid 19 plague is unspeakably painful. To the first responders struggling to save lives and property or the medical workers battling to bring healing to the sick it is, again deadly serious. To the thousands who have lost jobs or are trying to simply learn it is exhausting in the stress that has resulted. Yet, amazingly there are many who seek to either ignore, downplay or deny any of this is occurring.
There are those who believe climate change is a hoax foisted by liberals. Or perhaps it may have some truth but it is simply an end-time reality and nothing can or should be done. Speaking as a retired firefighter who has responded to a few fires I have to say wildfires now are far more intense and destructive on a consistently larger scale than what once was the norm. And they carry a clear message from “Mother Nature”. Or, more accurately, creation and our Creator. The environment is suffering on a global scale from greed and waste. The cult of SELF has resulted in the massive destruction and poverty as individuals have focused ever increasingly on themselves rather than on the common good or the even more rare value of one’s duty to God and others.
The pandemic is still doubted by many of both liberal and conservative values. Open-minded college students robed in the fine and very expensive fabrics of denial continue to gather for parties flaunting any health protocols. Conservative stalwarts who refuse to allow their selective choices in government tell them what to do or rob them of “their rights” imperil many in their mirror-focused love affairs. And, sadly politicians are embracing their respective chosen to ever build upon their empty empires of..self.
All this could be as oppressive and polluting as the smoke filled skies. It could be easy to say..What is the point? If it is so dismal why should we even try to hope?
But as intense, fierce or widespread as the fires and smoke may be or as prolonged and tragic as this plague may be there is even greater hope. Through all this God would make crystal clear His call, His plan for His Creation and all who will listen. We are to be A People of mercy and Faith.
The Place of Hope ~ The place of Mercy and Faith
The Bible readings this 24th Sunday of Extra-Ordinary times bring us the message of our Redeemer that will lead us through any trials. But it is in the opening prayer, The Collect, we find prayerful help:
“Look upon us, O God, Creator and ruler of all things, and, that we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen”.
We must trust and remember that even through the thick clouds of smoke and fire, God is looking upon us. God may allow these tragedies. But God does not smile upon them. God recognizes that if love is to be real people must be able to choose. Right from wrong. Good from evil. Love from hate. Others before self. God also seeks to help us understand that these great sorrows are not necessarily caused just by the sins of those suffering. God would rather help us to admit our sins can cause great suffering for others. It is a very sad illustration of this truth that one of the most destructive and deadly of the California wildfires was caused by a group of people having a “gender reveal” party. with fireworks…. in the dry brush.
God indeed is looking upon us and calling to everyone through the smoke and flames, to be a people, not of selfishness and ego, but of mercy and faith. The first reading from the Wisdom book of Sirach reminds of this ancient call. It acknowledges the false pleasure we find in clinging to wrath and anger. It clearly proclaims the better way, the way of God…to forgive. To be a person both realizing their need of God’s mercy and a person freely sharing mercy.
St. Paul in the second Bible reading from Romans begins with: “None of lives for oneself and no one dies for oneself…”. The distance our world has traveled from this truth is immense. But it is only in one simple step, to God, that distance is conquered. The distance our self and sins bring between us and God is immense. But as the Responsorial Psalm proclaims the dimensions of God’s mercy are infinitely greater! “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us.”
These great and imperative lessons from God are so beautiful and simple to…hear. But they are far more difficult to embrace and live through our lives. St. Peter understands this battle when, in the Gospel he asks Jesus “…how often must I forgive…”? And to this day we continue to seek to quantify and confine the mercy and forgiveness of God. As it applies especially to others. We seem to want a line in the sand that if someone crosses we are free to..deny mercy…to deny forgiveness. This is sought for how often someone sins. It is sought for types of sin (usually that afflict others….not us). If someone sins this many times! I am done! If someone commits THAT sin! THEY are DONE! But this quantifying of God’s mercy denies The Spirit and power, the purpose of God, Who is Mercy, of God who is Forgiveness.
It was very soon after this conversation with Jesus that Peter told Jesus “help my unbelief!. To truly receive and share this mercy, this forgiveness Who is God takes faith. Faith from a heart, perhaps not wholly and holy perfect but wholly yielded to God. Jesus calls us to mercy, as we are, to become whom we are called to be.
The fires, the pandemic, the political and racial strife are brutally real. But the promises and call of God are an even greater reality. All people, men and women, young and old are fully equipped and able to live the lives of joy-filled faith and mercy, of selfLESSness as opposed to selfishness. Look to the examples of first responders, medical professionals and so many others to see the TRUTH of who we are called to be. Look to the Church, the faithful religious, clergy and especially the individuals and families who daily strive to live for Jesus and others as our example.
Sometimes God allows great flames of affliction to free us from what holds us back from being all He has created and called us to be. Let us listen and follow Him, together in the peace and life found in His mercy.