Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
August 31, 2019 – 5:00 PM
We may tend to overlook the setting of this Gospel. Jesus is at a banquet in a home of a leading Pharisee. By definition, a Pharisee is a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. This Pharisee and others present at the banquet were observing Jesus carefully.
The people Jesus criticized most in his ministry were the Pharisees. We even have a word in common usage “pharisaical.” The definition of pharisaical is a self-righteous person or a hypocrite, those who wear masks and pretend to be someone they are not.
The human ego loves esteem and honor. Most people go through a period of ego development which necessarily includes esteem and honors. It is when this pride in self becomes your very identity that it can be problematic and even dangerous.
Every culture has its form of honor and shame… that which says who is higher up in social standing. And there are those who are considered low lifes by societal standards. And yes, I have participated in that so believe me that I am not indicating by pointing this out that I have evolved to be better than anyone of you. I am on the spiritual journey along with you. My ordination as a priest does not make me holier than thou. To say that or to think that would be pharisaical. And Jesus preaches against this.
Consider this: We need to be more “Catholic.” What does “more Catholic” mean? When I asked someone who said that, they replied that it is wearing certain clothes, eating certain foods, praying a certain way, (not like the Protestants), being more traditional. When I hear this, I am very wary that being “more Catholic” might mean becoming pharisaical. Jesus was constantly cautioning about outer appearances and practices. He taught us to focus on developing and growing in virtue, the inner life.
So when you give a banquet, don’t invite your family and friends. Of course, we do not take it literally because we all do have banquets for these folks, family and friends. But the issue Jesus is speaking about is that others will invite you back and repay you. A godly person gives without expecting anything in return.
Question: What do you do for NO PAY? Not monetarily, but socially, for your reputational status or kids to get something out of your parents? As soon as you seek repayment for anything you do, it is no longer a pure action. This is humility and generosity. Ask yourself: How much do you need to be noticed? True test of character is what you do when no one is looking.
One of my greatest learning experiences was the year before I went into the seminary and worked at a place called the Orange Grove Center in Chattanooga. It is a school and workplace for those who are mentally challenged. I was the manager of pen factory where my coworkers assembled ink pens by putting the different pieces on a conveyer belt. These adults taught me so much about humility and love and forgiveness.
Any of you who have special needs kids can most certainly relate to the challenge of living in our society which says you have to have perfect kids – smart; pretty; athletic; having great potential to contribute to society and make money. But the Good News of the Gospel today affirms that God loves you immensely. Jesus affirms that your child is most beloved in the eyes of God and there is a reason, even though you might not know what it is, why God gifted you parents with these beautiful beloved children. Do not ever forget it.
When I was a young priest, I was assigned as chaplain at NDHS. On Ash Wednesday when I was celebrating Mass, it came time to bless and distribute the ashes. Well, I was trying to be very reverent, and as I uttered the blessing, I said, “God bless these asses.” The entire student body, faculty and staff burst into laughter. I felt so humiliated and I am sure turned multiple shades of red. I got through it after everyone calmed down. Teenagers, you especially go through a very awkward period of moving from the innocence of childhood to adulthood. Every day you are challenged by a social structure where you truly want to belong. You are seeking your identity and want to be accepted. You may feel judged for not being good enough. I want you to know that you are beautiful just the way you are. God made you in love. Your true worth, your true identity is as a beloved child of God. My job, and I would say that your parents’ and grandparents’ job, is to mirror that love back to you, and help you to grow into the person God made you to be.
St. Francis of Assisi said, you are who you are in the eyes of God. In other words, you have all the honor and status by being a beloved daughter or son of God.
When we live out of this truth, we can do things just for love, not for reputational gain or access to something great. People who can do this are truly free.
The first reading from the Book of Sirach says: Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. A great spiritual teacher of mine said: I pray for at least one humiliation a day. So I have tried to do it too. I believe this practice has made me more human, letting go of pretenses and the role that I have to be perfect. It certainly has brought me more peace. So as I conclude, I humbly ask you to take what you like from this homily and to leave the rest.