05 November 2013

Rejoice, endure, persevere

31st Week OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St Dominic Church, NOLA 

“One by one, they all began to excuse themselves.” That is the saddest sentence in scripture. Not the angriest, or the most eloquent. But the saddest. Instead of saying yes to dinner, these would-be guests simply turn away. Given the chance to attend a great feast given by a great host, they just walk away. And what are they walking away from? Good food, good wine, excellent conversation, an evening of entertainment and friendship. Think of the business deals they will miss out on. Not to mention the chance to make friends with a great man of their city. But sadly their excuses leave them outside the feast. The gracious host doesn't exclude them; they exclude themselves in exchange for. . .what? Some alone time? To tend some animals? To catch a Saints' game? Jesus tells this parable of the Ungrateful Guests when a fellow-guest at a party notes, “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.” Indeed, and better yet: bless is the one who wills to dine in the Kingdom of God. All are invited. You and I are invited. Will we say Yes, or will we send an excuse. . .and exclude ourselves? 

The target of Jesus' parable of the Ungrateful Guests is unmistakable: he's aiming it right at some of his fellow Jews, those among God's people who have heard his Father's invitation to the heavenly feast and yet consistently decline that invitation in order to soothe worldly worries, to run after temporary treasure. Just like the great man of the parable, our Father, upon hearing the wonderfully inventive and self-serving excuses for declining his invitation, our Father accepts the absence of His invited guests and opens His feasting hall to the least of His people—the blind, the lame, the sick. And when these prove too few to fill His hall, He sends His servants out to poke around in the bushes for more guests. They find the Gentiles. And the Gentiles join the feast. Blessed are they who will to dine in the Kingdom of God. For God says, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited [and excused themselves] will taste my dinner.” Indeed, and better yet: none of those men who were invited [and excused themselves] willed to taste my dinner. All are invited. You and I are invited. Will we say Yes, or will we send an excuse. . .and exclude ourselves? 

Do you will to taste the abundant graces our Father invites you to taste? If so, just remember: every feast, every party—in heaven and on earth—has its own rhythm, its own life. Parties in the school gym are not the same as parties in a frat house. A family dinner is very different from a dinner with the Pope. If you accept the Father's invitation to celebrate with Him in heaven, then know that while you live, you will be working your way toward His party through the revelry and mess of this world's celebration of excuses, through the Enemy's riot of pernicious temptation and outright debauchery. Paul knows this bit of truth all too well, so he urges us: “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection. . .Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” We might call this advice, Paul's Party Etiquette on the Way to the Father's Big Party in Heaven! Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Rejoice, endure, persevere. Hang on to your invitation from God, and more importantly, hold tight to your Yes to Him. As Christ himself shows us, there is nothing the Enemy can offer us that does not already belong to God, nothing that our Father will not give us out of His love for us, including His only Son for our sins. 

Rejoice, endure, persevere. And do not wallow in ridiculous excuses! Those worries we love to rub? Those anxieties we love to feed? Excuses. Those flashes of anger at being hurt? Those moments we spend desiring vengeance for being hurt? Excuses. Love to point out the hypocrisy of others? Love to savor someone elses failure? Excuses. I don't need to be loved by God or anyone else. Excuse. I don't need to forgive or be forgiven. Excuse. I'm not broken, so I don't need to be healed. Excuse. My sins are not my fault; it's my family's, friends', society's fault. Excuse. Rejoice, endure, persevere. And do not wallow in ridiculous excuses! These excuses may dull some immediate pain or temporarily steer you away from taking responsibility, but ultimately, in the end, they will leave you outside the party—alone, despairing, and wondering what on earth could be more important spending eternity feasting at the table of the Lord? What on earth could be more important? Nothing on earth is more important. Say Yes to that invitation now, will to taste all the gifts that our Lord wants to give you. Then rejoice, endure, persevere. With all the gifts you receive from Him: rejoice, endure, persevere. 
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  1. Did you preach today?

    I found this to be a good, solid, daily homily. I wasn't too keen on the third paragraph - I think there were just too many words; it could have been tightened up a bit. But the final paragraph was a great closer - I appreciated how you carried your theme throughout, and really brought it home at the end. This one was certainly written to be spoken. I wanted to hear it.

    Since I've been missing the experience of hearing your homilies, I've had a chance to think on why I appreciate yours more than so many others I hear: you obviously prepare, and don't just show up - to me that shows that you respect your listeners. I have heard too many homilies of late where the priest/deacon seems to be figuring things out as he goes along. If I wanted to have a stream of consciousness discussion I would call them on the phone - I guess I expect the priest to put in at least as much as I do for the Mass, and so often it seems (and I may be wrong) that they just show up, do their "thing", happy with mediocrity or just to do their job....couldn't there be more effort given?

    1. There was a healing Mass at St D's last night. . .with Alan Ames. I was asked last year to celebrate the Mass and hear confessions. The 3rd paragraph was difficult to write. . .not sure why.

      I drill into my guys at NDS that Just Showing Up Preaching is deeply disrespectful of their people. More than "Good homily, Father," I hear, "I appreciate your preparation." To me, that's a much better indicator of dedication to the craft. Of course, even bad homilies can be well-prepared!

    2. I should add that as an academic priest, I have more time to prepare than your average parish pastor. However, I also tell the NDS guys that they entered seminary to be priests not CEO's of a small non-profit corporation! Learn to delegate administrative tasks and don't allow endless cmte meetings to gobble up the hours.

    3. We had one regular supply priest recently who was proud of the fact that he didn't prepare - didn't even look over the Readings For The Day before he celebrated Mass. Though I do remember one priest saying in his homily: "Someone asked me: 'Fr. P, do you just wing your homilies? Because it sure sounds like you do!' " He assured us he did prepare, but he took so many tangents it was hard to believe :-). But you're right, even bad homilies can be well-prepared...but at least there was effort put into it. I figure you can work with that, though. My experience is that those priests who carefully prepare their homilies are also those priests you can count on to care for their parish and their parishioners.