Deacon Cornellís Homily


Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32


September 24-25, 2011, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A friend of mine gave me a book this summer called Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. The author pointed out three elements of our American Culture that make it hard to be a practicing Catholic. He calls them individualism, hedonism, and minimalism, and they are in direct opposition to what we hear in today's readings.

Individualism means that we have enshrined the rights of the individual head and shoulders above any other consideration. From greedy financial executives, to corrupt politicians, to ... you pick your favorite category ... we are conditioned to choose what I want rather than what is good for the many. Hedonism is seeking comfort and pleasure as the supreme good. And minimalism is an attitude that asks, what is the minimum I can do to ...

How different is the philosophy of that early Christian hymn we heard in our second reading from the Letter to the Philippians. Christ did not cling to being God! He emptied himself for us, for the whole world, even though it resulted in a painful and shameful death. He did not ask what was in it for him. No individualism there. He did not place his comfort, let alone his pleasure, above the good his actions brought to us. Not a hint of hedonism there. And he emptied himself. He left nothing on the table. He completely spent himself to save us. Not even a spec of minimalism there.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells this parable along with two others that we will hear over the next two weeks in response to the priests and scribes challenging his authority to teach as he did. In that context it is easy to see this parable simply as a comment on Israel's failure to live out the covenant they had made with God, and therefore not something that has any direct bearing on us. Especially if we are being minimalists!

Throughout the gospels, and certainly here, Jesus does not criticize the leaders for their action or lack of action. In most cases, the Pharisees and the scribes are not doing bad things or failing to do good things. They are praying, and fasting, and offering sacrifices in the temple in accordance with Jewish law. What he criticizes most often is their attitude or understanding of what they are doing. He challenges them to act out of love, guided by the law, instead of just blindly following the letter of the law, or using the law to burden people. Love compels us to do things more fully as opposed to rules which tempt us to do the minimum possible.

Our Father asks us to work in his vineyard. Like many human fathers, He even has our Mother the Church make that request as well which she does in the church commandment participate in the celebration of Mass each Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation. There is more to it than that, like refraining from unnecessary work, but let's just consider this obligation to go to Mass.

We can easily see this Gospel story as a condemnation of those lapsed Catholics who rarely go to Mass. You know, the ones that bring their babies for baptism and have to ask where the baptismal font is, or the ones that bring their children for First Communion or Confirmation but never go to Mass themselves. Or the young couples who come for marriage and complain about all the rules and regulations that restrict their freedom and creativity. They are like the son who says Yes but does not go to work in the vineyard. Just saying they are Catholic but never living out that Yes.

But they are not here, so does this parable have anything to say to us who are? Aren't we the sons and daughters who said Yes and did go to the vineyard? It does because like the Sunday Obligation and all the commandments, this parable is about love, rather than actions. Ultimately we are "obligated" to go to Mass because love requires it. Today's readings remind us that loving actions flow naturally from love in the heart. And that is a big difference from doing something because of a legal obligation. I know it comes as a big shock to all of you here but there are some Catholics, adults as well as children, that ask, "Why do I have to go to Mass?" So for the first 3 Generations of Faith sessions this year we are going to tackle that question. I would urge any of you who do not usually attend GOF to come at least to these three sessions.

Assuming that this question comes from the heart, we have to start the answer by understanding what Mass really is. As with any mystery, there are a lot of ways to understand the Mass but I would like to focus on just two. First, the Mass is a way of saying thank you to God for all the wonderful things God has bestowed on us: from the very life we have to all the amazing things we take for granted like food, and clothing and shelter and families, to the gift of Christ, God become human to save the world. Someone who had been given so many gifts and doesn't give thanks is either blind to the gifts, or just plain ill-mannered. Oh, you say, but I can say thanks to God anywhere; I don't need to come to Mass. Hmm - that's like pretending that it is OK to text thanks to your great grandmother who might have a cell phone but would really rather you sent a little handwritten note. God has made it real clear through his Church that this is the best way to say thanks. Minimalism doesn't work here.

Secondly, celebrating the Eucharist is about joining ourselves more closely to the Body of Christ. This means encountering Jesus in the most intimate way we can encounter another person, and then becoming Christ so that others may encounter him as well. Individualism is a poor substitute for being fully human.

When you love someone, you are compelled by that love to see them, to hug them, to be with them. Many of you know that my son Matt and his wife Mariel and my 3 grandchildren, Dexter, 9, Chase, 4, and Tatum 2 live out in San Diego. Yes, we video chat with them every week or so, and we can video chat with them from anywhere in the world that has a connection to the internet. For love, that is not enough. So every few months Betsy and I get on a plane and fly out there so we can hug them and squeeze them and sit with them and talk to them in person. We don't think about the cost, the hassle of flying, the arrangements to make sure our cat gets fed and the house taken care of. Comfort and pleasure for the moment take a far back seat to the joy of seeing them in person. That's what love does.

The same is true for coming to Mass. Sure we can talk to God anywhere. We can be "good" people without coming to Mass. But that is not what love does. Our God has come into the world, emptying himself in the process, so that we can know how good it is to be loved by this God. And our Father asks us to spread that good news by becoming the Body of Christ here and now so that others can know how good that is. We don't have to go 3,000 miles away to be with this God who loves us. How can we say we are Catholics if we don't feel compelled by this love to give thanks and to encounter God in the way God has revealed is the best way?

The other statement I am sure you have heard (or maybe even said) is, "I don't get anything out of Mass". Imagine a parent saying to his or her newborn child, "I am not getting anything out of this relationship!" Today's readings tell us that the response to this kind of a statement is a question: "How much do I put into Mass?" You have heard us ask over the past few months for more servers, ushers, parishioners to serve on the Parish Pastoral Council, parishioners interested in serving on our new Liturgy committee. We can always use more music people. There is no lack of opportunity to put more into Mass. Get involved and you will quickly realize what an empty question "I don't get anything out of Mass" is.

As Paul relates in that hymn from Philippians, God did not become human and die for us because of a rule, or because there was anything in it for him. Jesus did not try to squeeze by with the least he could do. He was compelled to empty himself because that is how love works. The obligations, the commandments, the requirements of love impel us towards the one we love. My dear people, let us be truly counter-cultural by acting out of love which compels us to do the most we can.

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