Wednesday, November 28, 2007

33 Sunday C #159

Mal 3, 19-20a
Ps 98
2 Thes, 3, 7-12
Lk 21, 5-19

Deacon Tom Cornell
St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
November 18, 2007

Saint Paul was near the end of his days when he wrote this Second Letter to the Thessalonians. More than a generation’s time had passed since Jesus had gone to the Father. Still, many believers expected Jesus’ Second Coming any day, any minute. And so some of them put aside all worldly cares, even their own personal responsibilities. Why go off to work if Jesus is going to put an end to this earthy order of things, maybe this afternoon, maybe tomorrow? What’s to work for; what’s to save for? The End is near! Years before even Paul seemed to say as much in his First Letter to the Thessalonians. But as the years passed and Jesus tarried, Paul and the community of the Church began to realize that they had better hunker down for the long haul. So in today’s reading, we hear Paul telling people to get to work. That is how we are to understand his words, “anyone unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

Work can be drudgery. It is not meant to be so. Work may be hard and we may win our bread by the sweat of our brows quite literally. But work is meant to be ennobling, all honest work, no matter how humble. Even as a child I knew this. When one of my grammar school teachers warned us, “Learn your lessons, do your homework or you will end up sweeping the floors, like Sam the janitor,” I felt ashamed, not for Sam the janitor, but for my teacher. Sam was doing a job that was worth doing, keeping our school clean and safe, and he did it honestly.

My uncle Charley swept out a courthouse in Brooklyn. He was lucky to have the job. His father had died much too young, a “Christ in Concrete,” the old story, an immigrant worked to death on a construction site. He left a widow and five children, so the oldest boy, Charley, took
a job in construction to support his mother and the family. He was twelve years old. In the heat and strain of it, he collapsed, suffered what they called a sun-stroke, and never recovered his full mental capacity. So a local politician got him the job sweeping the courthouse floor. That’s the way it worked in those days.

Not every job is worth doing (let me suggest advertising) and not everyone gives an honest day’s work and not everyone gets an honest, that is to say, a just day’s pay. But all honest work is honorable. In our society we still tend to look down on so-called menial labor and prize prestige jobs. That’s not the way Saint Paul saw it. Paul made his living as a tent-maker. He was also a student, a scholar of the Hebrew holy books. But he was happy to make a living mending tents.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns the disciples against false expectations and false prophets. And many false prophets there have been, false messiahs in our own time, who have promised an earthly paradise only to deliver death and destruction. Jesus warns of natural disasters and war and persecution, but he assures us that “not a hair of your head will be harmed,” that he himself will deliver us if we keep faith.

There is work to be done. Today’s Psalm tells us that when the Lord comes he will rule the world with justice. Justice is the work of his people on earth, and peace the fruit of justice. You may have read in the news media last week that our bishops have just issued another Voters’ Guideline in preparation for the next election cycle. They put forward issues for us to consider when deciding who gets our vote. The secular news media picked up on only one, abortion, maybe two, embryonic stem cell research. They neglect to say that our bishops include every crime against life, naming specifically racism, unjust war, capital punishment and the denial of adequate medical care to so many of our citizens, and the abuse of immigrants and neglect of the poor. The bishops do not suggest which candidates or what party faithful Catholics ought to vote for, but they warn against “single-issue” voting.

Social justice issues are not tacked on to the preaching of the Christian Gospel. They are not optional – take it or leave it. They are integral, a “constitutive” element, as the Roman Synod of world bishops put it in their 1971 pastoral letter on justice. They are essential to our Gospel proclamation. Justice, social justice, must never give way to sentimental piety. You can not come to God to escape reality, or to Jesus Christ or to his Church to escape reality. Far from it! Quite the contrary! God is the ultimate reality. Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God and the Church is the mystery, the sacrament of the unity of the human race in all its joy and hope, suffering and grief, and his Mystical Body on earth. This is no new doctrine.

Saint Anthony of Padua is a favorite saint among our people. He was a close follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. His statue has a favored place in many of our homes, a brown-robed Franciscan holding the Baby Jesus to his chest, and a lily. So lovely, so sweet! In fact, Anthony didn’t walk around with a lily in one hand and Baby Jesus in the other. He was a terror to the money-lenders of his day. He pounded the loan-sharks so hard that people called him Il Martello, The Hammer. The bankers were not pleased. They told Anthony to keep to the sanctuary arranging Christmas crèches and not to upset people. But no, he thundered “Justice!” from the pulpit and in the marketplace. And he was heard. Anthony inveighed against the abuse of the poor so insistently, so passionately that he moved a council of the Church to condemn usury. And God loved him for that. No less is required of us today. Christ will not tarry forever.

Remember the words of the Prophet Malachi:

“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
And the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving neither root nor branch, says the Lord God of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

Come, Lord Jesus!


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