Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday word, 13 Nov 2011

33d Sunday of the Year (13 Nov 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Our Primary Colors

“The way they make it sound, it scares you half to death.” Some conversations never fade into the background. My mother wasn’t talking about the return of our Lord Jesus. Jesus described his second coming like a thief in the night to emphasize that no one knew when; and like labor pains upon a pregnant woman to emphasize his return is inevitable. St. Paul handed on this teaching of Jesus to the Thessalonians and to his other churches.

When she said, “The way they make it sound, it scares you half to death,” mom spoke about the Homeland Security alerts, which are not in the foreground as they were. Remember them? Those alerts, you recall, had their colors: green for Low; blue for Guarded; yellow for Elevated; orange for High; and red for Severe. My mother wasn’t alone. AOL had an online vote after an alert back then: “Do these warnings do more harm than good? Yes, they create too much panic; No, we need to know.”
In its own words: “The Department of Homeland Security would translate analysis into action in the shortest possible time,”1 actions for the safety of the largest numbers of citizens. Those alerts urged our vigilance with language, not just colors. One I recall used dire language:
Sources suggest al-Qaida may favor spectacular attacks [with] High symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy and maximum psychological trauma.
That and other security alerts told us to be vigilant, but did they tell us how? The alerts warned something may happen yet remained vague. Recalling them helped me notice that Jesus was not vague; he was concrete. Let’s consider how.

As our liturgical year with the Gospel of Matthew draws to a close, we consider Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry. Nearing Jerusalem where he would be crucified, Jesus encouraged his disciples to remain vigilant. They had been seeking the Messiah, but none expected theirs to be a crucified Messiah. Jesus had particular reason to encourage vigilance and to nourish fragile hope.
From the first covenant with Abraham, God desired people and their active love. God’s desire for us was so fiercely passionate that in Jesus God died for us. People need to hear that good news.
From the first covenant and its numerous renewals urged by prophets and sages from Noah to Jesus, vigilance remained one of its most important textures.

Vigilant service continues to mark covenant love with God. God desires we put to use our skills in daily living, as the parable of the three servants put in charge of their absent master’s estate made clear. Faithful use of one’s gifts paves the way to participation in the fullness of the life of the kingdom of heaven.
Covenant-people, however, do not live for themselves, extolled the sage. Concerned with her family and their household, the ideal wife reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. The Psalmist sang husbands, too, walk in the [the Lord’s] ways, the Lord, who is especially concerned for the outcast, the downtrodden and the poor. Children learn concerned love from their parents.
Our covenant-vigilance, urged by prophets, sages, faithful folks and, above all, Jesus, is in no way vague. St. Paul transformed an image of security from his own time:
let us be watchful, putting on the breastplate of faith and the love and the helmet that is hope for salvation.2
Faith, hope and love remain the primary colors of covenant vigilance. Faith, hope and love allow us to serve Jesus by our care for others. Faith, hope and love shape our Christian lives in specific, concrete ways.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Become aware of the Trinity faithfully keeping you alive at each moment.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Speak with Jesus in your words about how you are alert to Jesus and to living his gospel.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to walk in his ways more readily and desire to do so.
  • Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. It guides us to practice our faith, love and hope ever more concretely each day.

  1. From the government PDF about the purpose of Homeland Security.
  2. Verse 8 of 1Thessalonians 5 is not included in the lectionary selection. By his image (repeated in various ways in correspondence to his other churches) Paul offered Christians concrete ways of living vigilant lives.
Wiki-images of a man applauding a servant and of a door panel symbolizing the triumph of Christ Jesus and his church are in the public domain.

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