Today we (Holy Family Parish, Mitchellville, MD) hosted a Memorial Celebration for the Knights of St. John, International and the Ladies Auxiliary. Thank you for your long legacy of service to the Church. May all the faithful departed rest in peace.
Israel’s war against Amalek might have been a foreshadowing of the Church’s struggle against the world and the devil. The raised hands of Moses are often connected to the raised hands of the priest at the altar. The power that wins the battle is not Moses but that of God. However, Moses is seen as a conduit for divine power, showering his soldiers with heavenly strength and inspiring them with his presence on top of the hill. When Moses grew tired, Aaron and Hur supported his arms.
I am reminded about the story of an elderly priest who had to offer Mass from his wheelchair. A makeshift table was placed on the lower level before the altar. The priest had a debilitating muscular disease and his arms and hands were weak and useless. Two men from the community would hold up his arms for the orations and blessings. When he needed to hold the sacred elements, they would clasp their hands upon his so that he could raise up the bread and wine for consecration. Visitors one weekend were critical, noting that it was a shame that there was no healthy priest to say Mass properly. A large number of parishioners quickly objected to the criticism. One of them retorted, “What do you mean? We have our priest and he is empowered by Christ to give us the Eucharist and God’s blessing… what more could we want?”
The faith of the Jews and later of Christians is a mediated faith. We lift our hands and voices to the Lord. God uses weak human vessels to show his power and to transmit his gifts. God sends his deliverers, prophets, apostles, bishops, priests and deacons. God is our ultimate guardian but he gives us human sentinels who keep watch over his flock.
The worldwide Catholic Church fulfills the command from the Gospel to pray unceasingly. The Mass is offered, the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed and the Rosaries are said. Unlike the dishonest judge, God cannot be manipulated or forced to comply with our wishes. However, God wants us to pray and to petition him as a loving Father. Persistent faith and prayer is an antidote to human fickleness. We need to have the heart and mind of God— to want what he wants.
Constant prayer and a lived faith will transform us. We become God’s children in truth. Yes, God knows what we need even before we petition him; however, this posture of dependence is demanded by God for our own good. A person may give drink to the thirsty but the receiver must hold up his glass to receive the life-giving water. It might seem that God is moved but we are the ones being moved. God pours himself out; but we must be receptive to the divine presence and grace.
I remember my departed mother. She was never happier than when her family needed her. Even when we were selfish, she immediately responded with love and caring. All good mothers are the same. Our supplications may be endless, but so is God’s charity and patience. We belong to him. Everything is God’s gift to us. He delights in hearing the voices of his children.
God is the source of justice for those wronged by the world. While our faith must be lived outside the church doors, do we really make our own the bidding prayers of the Mass? What are the intentions that we bring to the Eucharist? Do we really believe that God hears and answers prayers? Some critics think that we are just talking to ourselves and making a wish-list that will never be realized. Of course, the Lord is not a genie from a lamp. His response to prayer, not wishes, is not to serve selfishness but charity, compassion, peace and truth.
If we belong to the Lord then we should witness in faith to his justice. The world resists and does not want to change. Jesus laments, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
If we want our petitions answered, do we respond to the cries of the poor?
Do we pray for courage so as to live out a heroic witness as signs of contradiction?
Do we ask for the grace to love and forgive as Jesus does, even those who hate and hurt us?
Do we pray for enemies, as well as for friends and loved ones?
Do we pray for the living and the dead?
Are our petitions devoid of selfishness?
Do we pray for the salvation of souls, vocations and the sanctity of life?
Are we emissaries praying for the wounded world?
Social justice is not an element of the Catholic faith that can be conveniently discarded. The outreach of our Lord insures that the proclamation of the Good News will always include caring about the needs and rights of others. While the Church would not condemn hard work and profit, the person is always measured as having primary value or worth in all human transactions. The more one has, the greater is the responsibility to those who have little or nothing. Poverty is not reflective of the curse and divine justice. Rather, in the Judeo-Christian mindset, those in poverty are an opportunity for those with some degree of wealth to witness a charity that pleases God. Divine judgment targets those who close their eyes to the hurting and the poor.
Today, Asian sweatshops and local jobs that pay a non-livable wage are instances of exploitation. It translates the message that some people matter more than others and that certain people have no importance at all. We see this mentality in poor-paying jobs, angry rhetoric toward immigrants and migrant workers, and consciences numb to the dignity of life in euthanasia and abortion, especially in light of dollars and cents. Once a price-tag is attached to human life… we begin to live a lie and forget that in the eyes of God all life has an incommensurate value.
Too often a greater attachment or importance is given to profits over the message of mercy from the prophets. History is riddled with injustice. The scales that weigh coins are fixed. The poor are forced to make do with junk and the refuse of the wheat for their bread. The world has not changed much. Just look at the street people who search dumpsters for food. Even those who claim to care about the poor are often motivated by a politics and giving that enslaves future generations in poverty and dependence. The poor are easily manipulated and that is precisely where people with power want them.
The message from Scripture is frequently that of a reversal. The wealthy will be brought down and the poor will be raised up. “He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes…” I have spoken before about how this admonition from the Psalms is realized in Christ where we are all anointed into the royal household of God. The reversal begins with a young handmaid called Mary who cries, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
The kingdom of Christ breaks into the world, first through the person of Jesus and now through his Church. He put aside his glory and embraced our poverty. Indeed, the Alleluia verse says that “By his poverty you might become rich.” We are all the poor man in Christ.
The Gospel presents us with the parable of the dishonest steward. Jesus knew what type of crowd he was addressing. They were indeed sinners and even the poor among them had the rich man’s dreams.
Our Lord is not commending the steward. The steward neither repents nor converts. Indeed, he stole from his master first and he steals again from him at the end. In order to ingratiate himself to the various debtors, he remits what they owe, thus stealing what (by rights) belongs to his master. His master commends him, not because he is happy about being robbed but because he can appreciate worldly prudence. Indeed, if the steward is a thief, his master is probably the biggest thief of all. Such men are labeled by Christ as “children of this world” and the ultimate master of this world is the devil.
Our Lord would not have “the children of light” possess such values or to imitate their tactics; rather Jesus wants us to have a comparable passion and wisdom for justice and truth. Making friends with “dishonest wealth” does not mean that we should seek out stolen money and goods. It is an expression for worldly riches. We are urged to employ the things of the world for the purposes of the kingdom. Worldly power and wealth should be exerted to care for the poor, the oppressed and the hurting. The things that are passing can serve a transitory purpose in that which is lasting and more important, the building up of a compassionate society and the Church which preaches mercy.
His listeners are left with a profound choice. Are they children of the world (the devil) or children of the light (God). Ours is a jealous God. “No servant can serve two masters. He will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” Where is your heart? To whom do you belong?