Deacon Cornell's Homily


Isaiah 66: 18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13
Luke 13:22-30


August 24-25, 2019, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Over the last few weeks we have been hearing parts of the Gospel that help us understand why Jesus was put to death. He certainly did not hold back when he felt that the leaders were missing the mark. Today we hear Jesus address the complacency of the leaders of Israel in terms of what it meant to be the Chosen People. At first hearing, it might seem as if Jesus is saying that only a few make it to heaven. But was we put this reading in context we see that Jesus is saying the exact opposite: the kingdom of God is for all, not just a select few. The Prophet Isaiah is saying the same thing, in that first reading, to the Hebrews returning from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The prophet explains that God is bring them back not as members of an exclusive club but as the first fruits of many, including many who are not Hebrew but who God will choose to be priests.

Twelve years ago, my granddaughter Kaitlin asked me how I go about preparing a homily. So I told that the next time I was scheduled to preach, I would show her how I went about it. That homily turned out to be on today's readings. Over the next few weeks as we looked at the readings and talked back and forth about their meaning, she had some very good insights. One that struck me was that she said that today's reading's reminded her of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. For those of you who may not have seen the movie (or have seen it so long ago that you forget the plot), Willie Wonka runs the world's best chocolate factory. No one has even seen the inside of it because Willie Wonka was afraid that someone would steal his secret formula. Then one day he announces a contest. Five of the millions of Wonka bars he produces have a golden ticket inside them and the holders of those tickets will get to tour the factory. Charlie, who leads a very poor life indeed, turns out to be one of the five lucky winners. So he and his grandfather go on the tour. All five winners quickly find out that they are being tested and challenged on the tour rather than being treated to a nice relaxing visit to the factory. In the end we find out that the point of the contest was not so that some lucky few people could enjoy the factory tour but that Willie was interviewing and testing the winners to find one who would inherit the factory. He had to test them to make sure that the one he chose would have what it took to continue to bring the wonderful Wonka chocolate to the world.

As we look around at all the empty seats here today, it is clear that many of us think of being Catholic as sort of having gotten one of the few golden tickets that will get us into the coveted tour of God's chocolate factory. If being baptized is about becoming part of an exclusive club then our focus tends to be on what is the minimum we have to do to make sure we don't get kicked out. That's how many of the people of Israel felt about being one of the Chosen People and that is certainly how the leaders of Jesus time understood what it meant to be Jewish. In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that God's plan for his kingdom is to bring all, all people, all things, into one under Christ. It is not an exclusive club at all. Membership, through baptism, is not about being part of the kingdom, it is about leading the rest of the world into the kingdom. It is not about getting to heaven but about making creation into a paradise, bringing heaven here to earth.

If we think that religion, especially being Catholic, is just about a bunch of people who are trying to be good so they can go to heaven, then maybe it makes some sense to limit our religious life to coming to Mass, most weeks, and saying our prayers, most days, and being good, most of the time. But that is not how Isaiah sees it, or the author of the letter to the Hebrews, and that is certainly not how Jesus sees it. God's plan is to love this world into being a paradise. And God's plan is to do this by being present to this world, in this world. This incarnational presence started with creation and reached its culmination with Jesus and now continues through the Apostles, and the successors of the Apostles, the bishops. That's what we mean when we say that we believe in a Church that is apostolic. Our Apple Valley Catholic Collaborative is not just a collection of Catholics who gather together each week to attend mass. St. Isidore and St. Elizabeth of Hungary parishes are local incarnations of the diocese that is created by the bishop to help him carry out his apostolic duty to bring the gift of Jesus Christ to this area that has been entrusted to him. We come to Mass so that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of our priests, we might be formed more fully into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might love this little corner of the world into paradise. If we don't participate in that parish vocation then this parish has no meaning.

We certainly have a lot of opportunities for participating in the ministry of the parish, from lectors and eucharistic ministers to altar servers to ushers to music ministers and so on. Not all ministries are appropriate or appealing to everyone. But there is one aspect of parish life that everyone should be participating in and that is our whole community catechesis: Growing in Faith Together or G.I.F.T. There is no one, including or maybe even especially, any of the staff in this parish who knows everything about our faith and lives it perfectly. And so all of us are given the opportunity to build faith through community formation. If you think you do know a lot about your faith, then come and share that gift. If you would never venture any opinion or comment on religion in a public forum because you are unsure of what you believe, come and learn. If you are old bring your gift of years and experiences; if you are young bring your gift of fresh eyes and ears and the hunger to learn. If you are a parent come and learn how to fulfill your responsibility to be the first teachers of your children. If you are a child bring your gift of energy and wonder and the attitude that Jesus says we all must have. G.I.F.T. is not just the gathering sessions; it is the continuously improving celebration of the liturgical year and the exploration of the faith in between sessions and events through Alpha, or book groups or bible study.

So strengthen those drooping hands and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed. Blessed are we who have been called to this table so that we might become the Body and Blood of Christ here in Acton, Boxoboro, and Stow in 2019. It is the narrow gate but it is our job to make sure everyone gets through it.

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