Sunday, February 26, 2017

Slaves of Christ

Slaves of Christ
Homily for February 26, 2017    8th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Do you consider yourself a servant of Christ?  Or more importantly, do others see you as a servant of Christ and, as St. Paul put it in his first letter to the Corinthians, “stewards of the mysteries of God”?

When we think of servants today, we often think of the “hired help” – employees who work for pay and whose service is often limited by a    job description and a set number of hours worked per week, controlled by labor laws.  But the image of servitude during the time of Jesus was quite different – servitude was more of a master / slave relationship – a 24-hour a day, 7 days a week thing – a total commitment to your master.  Often you see the word “servant” and “slave” used interchangeably in scriptures.

So, if being a servant was more akin to being a slave, what’s a “slave”, and why would anyone want to be one for Jesus Christ?  Today, if we hear the word “slave”, we might think of:

•    a person held in servitude as the property of another
•    one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence, or
•    someone who works long and hard at something that has little or no meaning to them.

We have a very negative image of this type of servitude, and rightfully so, since it represented an involuntary condition imposed on people that deprived them of their human rights and which was used to oppress people in the past, and sadly still exists today and continues to oppress people around the world – even here. 

And yet, throughout the New Testament we hear the followers of Jesus calling themselves slaves:

•    In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
•    From Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”
•    From his letter to the Galatians: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.”
•    From his letter to Titus: “Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth”

And not just St. Paul.  St. James begins his epistle with, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”  Even St. Peter, in his 2nd letter begins with “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ”

So why did the early disciples consider themselves “slaves” of Christ? 

To understand, we need to differentiate between “voluntary servitude” and “involuntary” servitude.  If our master is someone or something we really love, we are happy to do whatever we can to nurture our relationship with that master – we voluntarily serve that love. But, if it is something that we think we need or must have and it becomes a burden that we resent, our service becomes involuntary. 

In this country, the freedoms we have allow us to choose whether or not we will be in service to another – sometimes. And God has given us the gift of free will, so that we can make choices within our hearts.  But whether in our mind or our heart, we must make a choice on who or what we are to serve.

For the followers of Christ, there was nothing more important than Jesus.  They wanted to serve Him because they loved Him – and they knew that He loved them too.  Being a slave of Christ wasn’t a burden – it was a JOY. And in allowing Christ to be their master allowed them to deal with everything else that they faced in their lives with the strength and wisdom that comes from God alone.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all slaves to someone or something – by our own choosing.  We fool ourselves into believing that we are our own “master”; that we own things in our lives and can control how we deal with them.  But a quick look at just some of the things we own or control shows us just how much of a lie that can be:

•    If we own a house or car or other expensive item, we are required to maintain it, pay taxes on it, and care for it if we want it to remain of value to us.
•    If we are part of a family, we have a responsibility to serve and support that family to the best of our abilities.
•    Even our pets can be very needy and demanding – how many times have you heard that dogs (and especially cats) own their humans?

In fact, we have many, many masters in our lives, and we spend much of our time in prioritizing which one will get our attention today.  But ultimately, in case of a conflict between choices, we can only pick one.  That one becomes our true “Master” – it controls how we manage our relationship with the other things in our life.  And our lives become full of conflict and worry and anxiety if we choose the wrong master.  We can only be fully at peace if we have Christ as our Lord and master.

We have a choice to make.  St. Catherine of Siena said: “For our soul cannot be clothed in two different loves at the same time.  If our soul is clothed in the world, it cannot be clothed in God; the two are quite opposed to one another.” We must choose either God or the world to be our master.  With one comes the peace and joy that knows no end; with the other comes the worries and anxieties of the world.  As for me, I choose God, for “Only in God is my soul at rest . . . from Him comes my salvation.”

Are you a Slave of Christ Jesus?  Would others say you are?

You have a choice. Choose well.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hatred and Revenge

Hatred and Revenge
Homily for February 19, 2017    7th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from last week discussing six commands taken from the Mosaic Law which were examples of the conduct Jesus demanded from his disciples.  If you remember, last week Jesus began by addressing those who thought that, because of his actions and teachings, he was going to abolish the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets.  He stated that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law and the prophecies made about Him. 

He then clarified the six commands, beginning each of them with “You have heard that it was said…” and then stating the law.  Then, with a “But I say to you…”  he proceeded to either expand or deepen the command to make it even more all-encompassing, or replaced it with something more important as a standard of conduct that his disciples were to follow.  These six commands are all relational, dealing with how we are to treat each other – commands about anger, desire, divorce, honesty, revenge and hatred. 

Today’s Gospel addresses the last two commands, which address very common but deadly attitudes for today’s Christians: Revenge and Hatred.  I think Jesus is very clear about God’s position on these two points, and I’m not sure I like what He had to say. Of the six commands that he taught about, these two are the hardest for me personally to deal with. Sure, anger is tough and often leads to revenge and hatred, but it is these last two which can be the hardest for people to overcome, since their emotional intensity can totally blind us to the need for God’s mercy.  I used to tell people when I was pranked in my younger days, “I don’t get angry, I get even.  And I hold a grudge until I do”.  And I was ruthless.

Take Revenge.  Despite all of our talk about mercy, how often do we want “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” when dealing with someone who has wronged us personally or has done something that offends our sense of right and wrong?  Do we really believe in the value of reconciliation and rehabilitation?  How often do we see or hear in the news about the protests and riots which demand action against someone even before they’ve received a fair trial?  And if it something that is or seems to be terribly evil, we really want to punish them – hurt them – beyond just an “eye for an eye”.  

And Hatred of Enemies.  How can I not hate my enemy?  I’m assuming that there must be some reason that I call them “my enemy” – usually it is because they are some sort of threat to me or to those I love.  Embracing someone who has expressed a desire to harm me in some way just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do, does it?

I don’t think so.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do.

So what motivates us to hatred and revenge?  While anger probably and usually plays a significant part, I think it is mostly fear that causes us to hate others, or to seek retribution from another so that we don’t have to face the situation that harmed us again.  Fear does more harm to us than any other emotion, which is why Jesus so often said, “Do not be afraid.” 

We can become impulsive or irrational when we are afraid, and the evil that results from our failure to recognize Jesus’ wisdom in teaching about these two commands challenges our Christian faith more than anything else we face.  Fear blinds us to the command to “Love God and Love our Neighbor”, and we risk losing our eternal soul if we allow our fear to prevent us doing as Jesus commanded, especially seen through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy which are demanded of us for those who we fear or hate.

And yet, as a people, a nation, we are responding to the events around us in fear, and that fear has led us to anger, hatred and revenge.  All we have to do is look at the current headlines in the news and how we respond to any of the many issues facing our country today to see the hatred and the anger that permeates our society.  We say we seek “justice”, but that’s just another word for revenge. We are about as far from the model of discipleship outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as the pagans were from the first Christians.

St. Paul said to the Romans, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”

Can you respond in love to the neighbor you struggle with? Are you caring for those that you hate?  Do you pray for those you are afraid of?  Really pray for them and not against them?  Are you allowing the good in your life to conquer the evil that you face?

You must, if you are a Christian.