Sunday Word

How much love have we produced?

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Nov. 19
Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps 128:1-5; 1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30 or 25:14-15, 19-21

The image of the master asking his servants to account for the talents they have been given to invest can stir up images today of a conversation many would like to have with their broker. So much of our conversation in the public forum today is about winning and losing. Our focus this Sunday, though, is not on winning or losing in the market, or even in life, but on what it means to invest for the Lord.

Are our lives and our families’ lives truly being “invested” in such a way as to make a good return for God, our Master? At the end of our lives, he is not going to ask us about the equity available in our homes or how much is in our 401(k), but about how much love we have produced.

It is the love we have invested and produced that will truly matter at the end of our lives. This does not eliminate the need to find the way to provide housing, food, education, medical care and so many other needs for our families, but it puts all of those requirements into perspective. The second reading and the Gospel both make clear that there is an urgency to this investment strategy. We need to be prepared when the Master returns, for “the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.” There are many excuses we can make for postponing doing good, but St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians mean we need to be awake and do today what is needed today.

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, our focus this week, as last week, remains on the end times. It is a little surprising, then, to find the first reading from Proverbs, about joy that a worthy wife brings to her husband. This reading calls us to honor marriage and encourages spouses to see their partners as gifts from God. Not only the husband who entrusts “his heart to his worthy wife … has an unfailing prize,” but also the woman who entrusts her heart to a worthy husband. As Pope Francis has insisted many times, Christian families need our support and our prayers, and this reading provides us with a reminder of the meaning of marriage and our duty toward married couples.

There is a link, though, with the eschatological theme of the other readings. The prize that Proverbs promises the worthy wife is a sign of the prize promised the Church, the Bride of Christ. The Gospel demands that we put to good use the talents the Lord has given us, so that with these we may give glory to him. The person who has been a “worthy” husband or wife, parent, friend, member of Church and community, the person who has given himself or herself in love to others — that person will hear the words of the Master: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. … Come share your Master’s joy.”

Each of us has been given so many blessings to put at the service of the kingdom, especially in our families and parishes. As Bride of Christ, may we, the Church, respond to the Bridegroom’s love, not tomorrow, but today. Thus, may we succeed in the investment that really matters — the investment of our lives in the kingdom of God.

We can always be prepared

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Nov. 12
Wis 6:12-16; Ps 63:2-8; 1 Thes 4:13-18 or 4:13-14; Mt 25:1-13

Our readings this weekend put our focus on the end times. We hear of the need to be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, as do the wise virgins in the Gospel parable. We learn from St. Paul of our reason to hope for our deceased loved ones. With the gift of wisdom described in the Book of Wisdom, we can always be prepared, at the same time having the wisdom that allows us to live in this world, remaining vigilant for the world that is to come.

It is difficult to live in a state of constant preparation. Imagine that you are awaiting the visit of friends, whose visit you are very excited about. They have told you that they will arrive within the week, but they do not have a phone with them, and have no way to contact you. Days pass by, and they do not come. Yet you trust their promise. You want to make sure everything is ready when they arrive, but you realize how difficult it is to try to keep the house clean and tidy, to have the children well dressed, having fresh and tasty food ready each day, in case that is the day they arrive.

We are asked as Christians to live our lives always waiting and ready for the coming of Jesus. There are many things we need to take care of in our daily lives, but it is important to ask ourselves every day if we would be ready for the coming of him whose return is the center of our hope, our reason for being, if it were to come today. The examination of conscience we should do every night serves this purpose exactly.

Here there is a connection between our hope for our loved ones who have died and our hope for ourselves. The words of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, written a little over 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, represent the first words in the New Testament about the problem of death. What St. Paul makes clear is that we have nothing on them. They and we will share the glory and the joy of heaven: “Thus we shall always be with the Lord.” What St. Paul says was powerful advice for people who were expecting the imminent return of Christ and were confused by his delay, and it is powerful advice for us: “Thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

We often want to avoid talking about death, perhaps even more when it seems as if it may be coming close. I remember more than once approaching a hospital room to which I’d been summoned, only to have a family member say: “Father, just pretend you were in the neighborhood. We don’t want grandpa to think he’s dying.” In this month when we pray for our beloved dead, with hearts full of hope, it is also important to pray for us to be prepared for our own death.

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis, in his Wednesday audience, touched on just this point. He invited the faithful present in St. Peter’s Square to close their eyes and imagine the moment of their death. He invited them to consider that moment when Jesus would say to them: “Come, come with me, arise!” Are not those words of consolation and of hope? Is that not a moment worthy of being constantly prepared for?

The prayer over the offerings that we will pray this Sunday expresses the connection between the events of the paschal mystery (passion, death and resurrection of Jesus), our daily life, and eternal life for which we hope: “May this sacred offering, O Lord, confer on us always the blessing of salvation, that what it celebrates in mystery it may accomplish in power.”

May our participation in the liturgy of the Church help us always to unite our lives to Christ’s perfect sacrifice and share his glory in heaven. May our sharing in the Eucharist strengthen our hope for our loved ones who have died and prepare us to welcome Christ when he returns for us.

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Remember to be humble

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Nov. 5
Mal 1:14b–2:2b, 8-10; Ps 131:1-3; 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13; Mt 23:1-12

Let me share a secret that perhaps I should not share. When I have to prepare a homily or write a column about a particular set of readings, I usually look back to see what I have written before on those readings. That involves going back every three years to the last time these readings appeared in the Lectionary. As I reviewed the articles I wrote in my parish bulletin over the 14 years when I was pastor of St. Juliana in West Palm Beach, the articles I have written for local Spanish weeklies for the past 13 years, and the articles I’ve written for the Florida Catholic since 2013, I find no evidence that I have ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) about this Sunday’s readings.

Now, there were some years where these readings were skipped, due to All Saints Day or All Souls Day falling on Sunday. There were years where national elections seemed worthy of comment in writing to the parish or my readers. I wonder, though, whether the basic discomfort of having to comment about Jesus’ critique of religious leaders of his day might have led me to rejoice too quickly at the opportunity to look at something else, rather than these challenging readings.

Certainly, one of the challenges the Gospel presents today is that Jesus tells us: “Call no one on earth your Father.” This presents a challenge to the Catholic practice of referring to priests by that very title. We can respond with the practice of St. Paul, who referred to himself as a spiritual father to his readers (1 Cor 4:15) and to Timothy (2 Tm 1:2) and Titus (Ti 1:4). There is no doubt that the practice of the early Church challenges any fundamentalist interpretation of this passage, denying the reality of spiritual fatherhood. The difficulty with this passage goes much deeper, though.

By forbidding the titles of “Rabbi,” “Father” and “Master,” what Jesus is condemning is not having a spiritual relationship of leadership, paternity or discipleship, but looking for honor or privilege in any relationship. The specific accusation against the scribes and Pharisees makes clear that, in Jesus’ view, this is exactly what they have been doing — looking good in their roles, while imposing burdens on the people. His concluding words demonstrate the lesson that all of us, leaders in the faith and members of the Christian community, are meant to receive: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Thus, the question I, as a priest, and all of us, as Christian faithful, need to ask myself this weekend is whether I truly am willing to let others be exalted instead of me, which means allowing myself to be humbled. As human beings, we all like to be admired and talked about, but if one takes on any role of Christian leadership, whether that of the clergy (in seminary formation we talk a lot about humble service and the true meaning of spiritual fatherhood) or of any other member of the faithful, especially the leadership in faith that husbands and wives and mothers and fathers must exercise, we need to be able to look first for the good of those whom we serve, not to impress anyone with our own successes.

Christian leaders who fail in this task, who do what they do out of vainglory and the desire for attention or profit, are deserving of the condemnation of Malachi in today’s first reading. Those who give themselves in humble service are able, with St. Paul, to express their prayerful gratitude for those who have received the word of God from them: “For this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”

None of us likes to be reminded to be humble. It is only in true humility, though, that any of us who are called to serve as leaders in the Church can hope to imitate our true leader, Jesus Christ. We are called to serve each other in humility. I ask you to pray especially for your priests and seminarians, especially during Vocations Awareness Week, which begins precisely Sunday, Nov. 5, that they may be true spiritual fathers who are fathers precisely as they give themselves in loving and sacrificial service to the community they are called to serve. Pray as well that many more young men will hear the call and respond to it gently, looking not for honors, but to share the loving cross of Christ.

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

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