NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
During my vacation I listened to a fascinating audio book about America and Great Britain in 1940. Specifically, it dealt with several special emissaries whom Franklin Roosevelt sent to Britain to accomplish tasks that Ambassador Joseph Kennedy could not or would not do. FDR knew that America would sooner or later have to enter the fight against Hitler. And, together with Winston Churchill, he had complete faith that the Allies would prevail. But in 1940 America’s involvement in the war was still in the future; and Roosevelt knew that some measures had to be taken immediately to keep Britain from being overwhelmed before the American public could be brought around to accept the necessity of participation in the war. So the emissaries, apprising Roosevelt of Churchill’s determination to fight, in turn assured Churchill of Roosevelt’s support. That initiative led to the Roosevelt’s brilliant conception of Lend-Lease that sustain Britain until Pearl Harbor changed everything.
Foresee what lies in the future. Have unshakeable faith that it will come to pass. Do what you can and must do until it comes to pass. That formula that runs like a thread through the liturgy for this Sunday in Ordinary Time; and it is illustrated in today’s Scripture readings.
Let’s begin with the illustration that rings as true today as it did when Jesus included it in his teaching. A householder gets word that a burglar is working the neighborhood. He just knows that his home is going to be among the next to be broken into. So he prepares for that event by putting his servants on alert the way a contemporary homeowner might install a state of the art alarm system.
But let’s go back to the children of Israel living in slavery in Egypt just before Moses appeared on the scene. They knew that the God of their ancestors would not abandon them to their unhappy lot. Sooner or later – probably sooner- he would come to their rescue. In the words of the Book of Wisdom, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they had courage – courage like that of Churchill during the Blitz. And so, in secret they were offering sacrifice and putting into effect the divine institution. That is to say, they were rehearsing the Passover ritual before the first Passover, the way seminarians practice saying Mass before they are ordained to the priesthood. The seminarian, Andrew who spent some months with us a few summers ago, could tell us how Catholics kept the faith alive in Korea after all the missionaries were expelled. They knew that one day priests would return to offer Mass, but until then laymen dressed in priests’ vestments and went through the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass so that no one would forget or be unprepared when the real ritual resumed at last.
The Letter to the Hebrews talks about all the holy men and women of the Old Testament awaiting the Kingdom of God. “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised, but saw it and greeted it from afar…” In the meantime, they were willing to undergo great tribulations, like Londoners during the blitz. Some, like Abraham, endured the supreme test prepared to make the supreme sacrifice like gold-star mothers and fathers of the allied nations.”
Foresee what can happen. Believe that it will come about. Do what you can and must to make it a reality. Those three simple steps are embedded at the core of every self-help and personal growth formula. And there is evidence that the formula is effective in helping people escape from addictions and self-defeating behaviors, as well as in promoting effective living. I am confident that every baseball player wearing a METS uniform would bear me out on that.
But the liturgy today is reluctant to have us remain focused on ourselves. It broadens the horizons of our expectations even beyond the global vision of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Jesus tells his disciples straight out, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for the Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. That kingdom is what our Jewish brethren still anticipate as they celebrate each Passover millennia after Moses and the Exodus. It is what disciples reading the Letter to the Hebrews have rejoiced to possess. It has given strength to martyrs and heroes and heroines beyond counting.
We gather here around the altar each Sunday because we foresee a world redeemed and transformed by love. We believe with all our hearts that because of Jesus’ victory over hatred, violence and indifference the kingdom will shine forth in all its brilliance as the New Jerusalem foreseen by the Letter to the Hebrews.
What can and must we do now to bring that vision into reality? For the answer to that question I refer you to Pope Francis.