for Sunday, September 27, 2020
This Sunday we are treated to one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. It is found in the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. Paul begins by telling us to be kind, and loving, and merciful to each other. We are to put the interests of others above ourselves. Then he tells us about Jesus. He says that we should have the same attitude in life as Jesus had. He was forever God, but he did not regard this as something to be grasped. Instead, He emptied Himself of His Divinity. He became a human being. More than this, He became a slave for all of us. And He obeyed His Father for our sake, even when this obedience led to His death on the cross.
Then we have a Christological hymn: Because of this God has bestowed on Him the name that is above every other name; so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, both in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.
It is difficult for us to explain our belief in Jesus. Jesus is so much more for us than Christology, the study of Christ. Jesus is not just a dogma of the Church, an intellectual doctrine. He is a living person. We have a personal relationship with Him. We go through our days speaking to Him and listening for Him to speak to us. We know that He is the eternal Son of the Father, the Word of God present from the beginning of creation. That is not how we relate to Him, or He to us. He is our closest friend, our deepest Love. We look at the Cross and are amazed at the extent of His Love for us.
He is God, and yet He became one of us. More than that, He became a slave for us. Jesus came to serve us. He came to free us from the grasp of materialism. He came to renew the quest for the spiritual within us. He came to restore us to that place in creation that we deserted out of pride and selfishness. We sometimes tell the little children, "Jesus came to open the gates of heaven." That is beautifully concrete, the way that a little child can understand. For us adults we develop this thought into: He came to instill the spiritual within us so that we can be united to the Eternal.
"Be like Him," St. Paul says in the second reading. "Serve others. Stop being selfish. Look at others as more important than yourself." This is difficult. So much of our society pressures us to think that the world revolves around our wants and us. However, it does not. The world is the Lord's.
With the Grace of God, we can do the work of God. But this is work, and work is hard. Work takes time and strength. Work means exhausting ourselves to be understanding, in your case, of your husband or wife, your children, your parents. In my case, the people God calls me to serve. Recently, a seminarian said to me that it must be draining to serve as a priest. I told him that it is only draining when you really do the work correctly putting all of yourself into it. It is really the same for everyone here. For all of us, doing the work of the Lord means emptying ourselves for others.
It also means doing everything we can to stay away from all that could hurt us. It takes work to control our temper. It takes work to be spiritual in our homes. It takes work to turn a house into a place of prayer, a little Church. This is the work of Jesus, who humbled Himself for others, for us.
Like the two sons in the Gospel, we are called to work in the Father's vineyard. The vineyard is your house and my house. The vineyard is your life and my life. The vineyard is that place where others are reaching out to us, seeking the love of Christ in us. They long for Jesus. And they can find Him. They can find Him within us, within us as Church and within us as individuals.
For God to work through us, we have to take on the humility of Christ and be more concerned with those for whom we are called then with ourselves.
As a priest, I have had times when I've been treated rather poorly and have come close to saying, "This I don't need. Let them figure out how to handle this without me." There are times that I want to pack up and go home. Then I have to ask myself, "Why am I here in the first place?" I often have to remind myself that I am a priest, and the people need a priest. When I realize that, I am far more open to letting God work through me.
I am sure you have had similar situations. I am sure that every married person has had to be more concerned with caring for his or her spouse then with how he or she has been treated by that same spouse. One snaps at the other, and the other has various choices: retaliate and snap back, employ the old classic passive aggressive behavior known as the silent treatment, sulk, or say, "I'm sorry for my part in this," and look for something to do together to change the subject and ease the upset. Certainly, the silliest words ever uttered by Hollywood were from the old movie, Love Story, "Love means never having to say you are sorry." No, love means always having to say you are sorry. However, that takes humility. Pride and marriage cannot co-exist, at least not peacefully. Nevertheless, through humility you can be like Jesus for each other.
I am also sure that every parent has had to swallow hard when their children have said something thoughtless. Pre-Teens and teenagers can get snarly or develop an attitude. Parents know that they have to be more concerned with caring for the children than their own feelings. Parents do not bring children into the world so they can have little people telling them how wonderful they are. They have children to expand their love and to fill the world with new reflections of God's love. And yes it is an important part of parenting to bring children up to respect authority, but for their sake, not for the parents' sake.
Finally, I am sure that every single person has been confronted with the choice of serving God or receiving the proper respect he or she feels due. We cannot serve God when we are concerned about how we are treated by others.
Matthew 16:24: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." We know that this means accepting our suffering so the world can be filled with sacrificial love, and the Kingdom of God might grow. But we usually just relegate this and parallel passages to the way that we handle crises, perhaps a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a spouse or some other such crisis. Today's second reading is more expansive. It directs us to take up our cross in our daily lives. It tells us that to follow Christ we have to change our attitude in life to be like His.
We have to be like the One who humbled Himself. This is difficult. It is difficult because pride is so deeply rooted in each of us. But through the Grace of God we can conquer pride. We can be the people that God needs us to be for His Kingdom. Christ is the victor. With Him we can conquer all that holds us back. And so we pray to the Father in the Third Eucharistic prayer, "May He make of us an eternal offering to you."
Readings of the day:
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: