21st Sunday Ordinary Time C

Whom The Lord Loves, He Disciplines

Nobody enjoys being taken to task, whether by a parent or superior, or even by God Himself. But as St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, discipline is an essential part of teaching. If, at least by the end of our lives, we have not yet come to appreciate the value of correction, we are still pretty immature persons.

Our teachers in grammar school often do more to form us that our parents. Sister M. Berchmans, who taught and was principal from 1880 to 1925 in my own parochial school, was just such an influence. Three generations of our parish children knew her and held her in proper awe. They were immigrant or second generation children of Irish, German, Italian or Slavic background, and some of the boys could be pretty rambunctious and some of the girls pretty “bold”.

In that era, corporal punishment was still permitted. Indeed, it was an implicit part of the parental contract that the school was delegated to take a stick to Billy or Kate if need be. The school followed a simple, disciplinary routine. If the grade sister could get nowhere with a pupil, she would send him or her to Sister Berchmans’ office. The principal, who never smiled during school hours, would first give the offender an appropriate reprimand. Then she would take her special stick (the length of a ruler but a little thicker) and (at least in the case of a boy) lay a few thwacks on the open palm of the hand. That usually solved the problem, although there were always a few recidivists. One of them in my day was “Louie” who was sent to the principal many times. I never knew whether he had a long willfullness or a short memory.

Despite her proverbial attack, Sister Berchmans was highly regarded by alumni and alumnae. They knew she was doing her job as she believed it should be done and that she played no favorites. When sister celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1921, many of her former pupils came back to congratulate her with nostalgic gratitude. (They also learned that day that out of school she could smile). And when she died in 1929, one of the largest bouquets beside her simple wooden casket bore a card signed, “In loving remembrance – Louie”

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q438: Why didn’t that man in today’s Gospel (Lk 13:22-30) get an answer to his question to Jesus about “how many” will get into heaven?

Notice how Jesus simply shifts the emphasis away from “how many,” to focus on two things: first, the surprise that awaits a lot of folk who think they belong to the “in” group; and second, the effort needed to live a life of faith. Therein lies the answer to his question.

Jesus talks about entering through the “narrow gate.” It seems obvious that just having the marks of Jewish circumcision is not enough. Being born into your faith – a cradle-Jew – is not enough. If those are the only credentials I have to show the heavenly gate-keeper, then in all likelihood a surprise awaits me: the gate may not be opened. Something else is required for entry into the heavenly banquet.

There is a sense of urgency present here. Salvation is offered to all, but not forced upon all. If we do not seize the moment for what it is – a moment of grace in which to act – then before we know it, the time has come to “close the door.” Every moment we live is an opportunity for grace, an occasion to take action as a disciple of Jesus.

The first requirement is faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Does that mean my Catholic birth plus routinely attending Mass to fulfill a Sunday obligation is enough? Not at all! There is still the second part: living that faith. The “narrow gate” requires effort – meaning a habit of taking action on those daily opportunities for grace. Our attitude towards these moments is much more important than a “programmed response” that reflects a heart distant from God.

Will we be “surprised” when the time comes for each of us to stand at the gates?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus Christ is the “narrow gate” by which we enter our Father’s house; he is the “sole and necessary” gateway to his “sheepfold,” the Church (CCC #754). Everyone needs daily conversion, including you and me; those who find the way to life are few (CCC #1036).

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Q594: Our gospel (Luke 13:22-30) seems to indicate that more than faith is needed to enter the Kingdom of God.

Did you ever notice how “surprised” those folks were who knocked on the door to the Lord’s house, and were refused admittance? They had no idea that they were in trouble, and had taken their relationship with the Lord for granted. Could you and I be making a similar mistake in our relationship with Jesus?

Consider what happens when we get distracted from essentials. Have you ever thoughtlessly locked your keys in your car? Remember your emotions, perhaps panic, when you could not get the door open? The Kingdom of God is like that. If we get distracted from the essentials of true life in God’s kingdom, then we may find ourselves on the outside looking in — with great panic and regret! We will discover that faith without works is dead.

The starting point for our renewal needs to be a renewed relationship with Jesus. We need to take a lesson from our daily physical essentials. Just as we need to exercise regularly to avoid drifting into the neighborhood called Fat City, so we need to exercise our spiritual muscles. We need to flex those special muscles daily, and permit the Holy Spirit to grow us into the fullness of humanity to which we are always being called. He will lead us into those works of mercy which flow from a heart that is in accord with the will of Jesus.

If we have our personal relationship with Jesus in order, then we do not have to worry at all about the time that is surely coming when The Gate will be closed forever. We will be on the inside, not the outside; we will have reached our goal of becoming fully human. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee of that, provided we permit him to help us grow in our daily relationship with Jesus our Savior.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Living faith works through charity. If we freely commit our entire being to the Lord, our actions will accord with His will – and those actions will always reflect that divine will in our works of mercy (CCC 1814).

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Good News and Bad News

Today’s readings remind me of the many stories that begin: “I’ve got good news and bad news…”  We all like to think of the gospel of Jesus as Good News and indeed it is.  Isaiah paints a picture of the Good News.  God calls his people from their land of exile to worship him in the temple on Mt. Zion.  But more than that, he will “gather together all nations and tongues” to worship and serve him.  But there is bad news too.  That comes in the gospel story.  Not every one who comes will get in!  Some come to the door and knock and say ‘Jesus invited me.”  Then comes the shock.  “I don’t know you.  Go away.” What a frightening prospect.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t answer the question whether the saved are few or many.  He just tells us not to take it for granted just because we are in the neighborhood with him.

The Letter to the Hebrews reinforces the lesson that we have to do our part.  The Greek word paideia, translated here as “discipline,” refers to the process of education and training by which the young Greeks were prepared to be admitted to citizenship in a Greek city.  It costs, but failure to pay the price costs more.

Lord Jesus, help me to know you more clearly, to love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, so that I may come to share in the fellowship of your saints at the eternal banquet.

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