Sunday Word

Persistence pays

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, Oct. 20
Ex 17:8-13; Ps 121:1-8; 2 Tm 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

One of the interesting things I carried away from my first trip to the Holy Land was the incredible pressure of salesmen in the gift shops. If you have been there, you know what I’m talking about. Imagine visiting a car dealership and multiplying that experience times ten. I warn people about that slightly annoying detail before they go on a trip and to be ready to say no. On the other hand, when you think about it, there is a reason why these Middle Eastern storekeepers use a hawkish form of salesmanship. They learned an important lesson at the center of today’s Scriptures – not to give up and keep trying with all their might. Indeed, persistence pays!

Our first reading today from the Book of Exodus paints a heroic picture of persistence. Leading a group of fifty people is hard enough, but imagine leading a group of hundreds of thousands, with no megaphone? Moses must have been a very stealthy man no doubt. On the way between Egypt and Mt. Sinai the Israelites come into contact with the aboriginal people of southern Palestine – the frightful Amalekites. The Amalekites feel threatened by this huge group of Israelites trespassing on their turf leading their King Amalek to wage war. Remember that the Israelites came out of Egypt not with military equipment but with the shirt on their back; traveling in the wilderness must have tired them out.

How can they possibly stand a chance to survive this deadly attack? They overcome the impossible by the most unsuspecting possibility – the power of prayer. Amalek must have laughed when he saw the leader of Israel stand on top of a mountain and raise his arms in prayer to his God. Sometimes people laugh at us when we turn to God in prayer. Undeterred, Moses persists and so must we.

After a few hours Moses’ arms begin to shake under his own weight; he needed help. Aaron and Hur attend to Moses’ left and right and they help lift up his tired arms. Like Moses we can’t always do it on our own, we can get tired. God gives the community of the church to help us lift our arms in prayer, together. Imagine this battle scene with Aaron and Hur, the two of them lifting high the arms of Moses? Instead of giving up or running away, Moses and his people face their enemy straight on. Amalek will not be laughing for long because the Lord, the God of Israel, will hear their prayer. God will grant them absolute victory.

The power of persistent prayer runs through this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke 18. Jesus tells a story that would be familiar to his audience. It involves an unjust judge who has “no respect for God or for other people” and a poor widow who would have been seen as insignificant because of her poverty and lack of stature. The poor widow was an old woman living in a man’s world.

The judge Jesus describes is often swayed by financial bribery or powerful threats. Yet even this wicked judge could not be swayed by financial bribes because of the persistent, non-stop, never-ending, extremely annoying nagging of the poor widow. He chooses to render her a just judgment not because it was the right thing to do, but simply to get her off of his back and make her stop. The point Jesus is making is this: if an unjust judge can be moved by a persistent widow, how much more is our loving Father moved by the persistent prayers of his beloved children?

The problem is we throw in the towel to quickly when things don’t go our way. Sometimes we panic and run when threatened. The Scriptures give us the important insight to never give up, to have courage and face our problems. On our own we can falter so we must turn to our Father, lifting up our arms in prayer. God loves to hear from us. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but God will give us what we need. Are we trusting God? Do we pray? Let us learn the lesson of the Middle Eastern shopkeeper, of Moses and the Poor Widow that persistence pays.

God’s little dishrag

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, Oct. 6
Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

It’s time to clean up! We know the drill – the alarm clock beeps it’s time to arise, take a shower and get cleaned up. Then we are ready for work (or school)! Today’s scriptures teach us that the work that we do matters. Some have great big tasks to accomplish, others small and most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Whatever it is that we do God can work through us like a little rag cleaning up some area in this world, leaving something better than it was before. With openness and humility, God will work through us to accomplish great things.

In our first reading the Prophet Habakkuk is called by God to fulfill the role of prophet to the people of Israel in a difficult time. Habakkuk becomes angry and disillusioned by all of the fraud, idolatry and sinfulness of his own people. In frustration he questions God with some anger and doubt: “How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” (Hab 1:2). In the task of life God has for us we may get frustrated, doubtful and even angry. Habakkuk reminds us that God is big enough to handle our anger and frustration. Habakkuk does not give up on God and neither does God give up on him. It is only through the difficult experience that God shows him the answer to his question and God will do the same for us who persevere in the work of faith.

This Sunday’s Epistle from 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 we discover that Paul had ordained the young Timothy to be a Priest/Bishop to follow in his footsteps to establish and govern the local church. Timothy’s work as an ordained young man was difficult because some used his youth against him and disrespected his ministerial authority. In his sacred work as a young priest, St. Paul reminds him that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity” and to teach the Gospel not according to his own private opinion but in the “pattern of the sound words which you heard from me…guard the truth entrusted to you.” Despite modern temptations to change some teachings of the church to accommodate sin, St. Paul reminds Timothy that Ordination is not a license for private practice. It is the call to hand on the gospel and to celebrate the sacraments according to the Sacred Tradition that comes to us from Jesus and the Apostles (2 Thes 2:15).

Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel of Luke that whatever work God has called us to do, whether it be great or small, not to take credit for it. Rather, we ought to have the attitude of a servant who was expected to accomplish what he or she had been assigned to do – it’s our duty.

Let me put these readings in context from a personal story of my own. Some 20 years ago in my early days of attending Franciscan University of Steubenville I had the opportunity to get to know and pray with the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. This is the same community headquartered in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the beautiful home of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy. Some of their Fathers and Brothers were my classmates. This community that continues to grow and do incredible work around the world was nearly on the brink of extinction in the early 1900’s due to religious persecution in Eastern Europe. One day while attending Mass with them I heard about a very important Marian Father who pretty much saved the community from extinction over one hundred years ago. His name was Blessed George Matulaitis. Once he wrote: “let me be but a dishrag in Your Church, a rag used to wipe up messes and then thrown away into some dark corner. I want to be used up and worn out in the same way so that your house may be a little cleaner and brighter. And afterwards, let me be thrown away like a dirty, worn-out dishrag.” Wow.

This week may God give us the spirit of dutiful and humble service — to be his little rag and nothing more.

Father Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach and parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Parish in Royal Palm Beach.

Lazarus at our door

Father Ben Berinti
Sunday, Sept. 29
Am 6:1a, 4-7; Ps 146:7-10;1 Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

We do not have to be physically far away from someone or something to feel the distance. Have you ever been in a group of people, especially family members, who despite the blood connection and their proximity around the Thanksgiving table or grandma’s birthday cake, seem to be miles apart from each other? Have you ever witnessed (or sadly experienced) a couple or parent and child sitting next to or across from each other at a restaurant, yet there is no communication going on, except perhaps with a smartphone? Have you been stopped at a traffic light, and had someone approach your car window from the side of the road, holding their tattered cardboard “Anything Helps” signage, and met him or her with an undaunted stare straight ahead?

We do not have to be physically far away from someone or something in order to feel the distance.
The prophet Amos, rarely one to mince words in his prophetic laments on behalf of God, the God who “gives life to all things,” knows this truth all too well. “Complacency” plays more than a supporting role in the challenge to be aware of the suffering, pain, disappointment, poverty, and despair—the “collapse”—that exist all around us.

It comes as no surprise to me that Amos declares the complacent coach-potatoes “shall be the first to go into exile.” After all, “exile” means to be cast off and to be disconnected from all that one calls “home.” Thus, the complacent reap what they have sown—disconnected and separated from the suffering right in front of their faces—now they are the ones to be cast off.

Similarly, every time I hear the parable of the rich man covered in purple linen and Lazarus covered in oozing sores, I am moved by the profound image of their utter closeness to each other, yet the gaping wasteland that exists between them. Lazarus may be at the doorstep, but in the mind and heart of the rich man, Lazarus might as well be 3,000 miles away. Is it any wonder then, that the “exile” awaiting the complacent rich man is to spend eternity separated from Lazarus by a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed?

Each day of their lives, the rich man and Lazarus existed within reach of each other—a word, a gesture, a touch, a few leftovers, a moment of compassion were all that was needed and so readily possible—yet the rich man chose to keep his distance. And now, after death, that threshold, which in life was so easy to step across, is now an unsurpassable chasm.

How many opportunities for care and compassion, for simple or profound acts of outreach and acknowledgement are we given every day—yet somehow evade our view? Coming at us from all sides, we remain resolute in our straight-ahead stare.

How does our complacency create a barnacle-laden hull around our own hearts and minds? Who is the Lazarus at our doorstep—around the corner, across the street, under our own roof at the dinner table, wandering alone at recess, unvisited in the care center, daily slimed with vitriol by political leaders, in the pew where we sit each Eucharist?

We don’t have to be physically removed from someone or something to experience the distance. Today’s Gospel challenges us, I believe, to break from the shell of our complacencies and to close the gaps that we create around us.

Every day of our lives, countless Lazaruses are within our reach. Our beds may not be made of ivory, but they become incredibly comfortable and hard from which to climb out. In this coming week, how will we start closing the gap with the Lazarus at our doorstep?

Father Berinti, Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach.

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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