September 4, 2011
Readings for The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
A famous nineteenth century poet and artist, Gabriel Rossetti, was once approached by an elderly man and asked to evaluate some sketches and drawings to evaluate his potential talent. Rossetti looked them overly carefully and told the elderly man that he was sorry, but he could not lie, the drawings showed little talent. Disappointed, the elderly man asked him to look at a few more drawings from a young art student. Rossetti looked over the second batch and with great enthusiasm said, "These are great, this young student has great potential, He should have a great future if he will work hard and stick to it." Rossetti asked who the young artist was? The elderly man responded that it was him, forty years ago, "If only I heard your praise then! For you see, I got discouraged and gave up too soon."
Today's readings remind us that we have a responsibility towards others. The first reading has the Prophet Ezekiel appointed as a "watchman for the house of Israel." This is something that we are not often comfortable in doing in our American Culture. We are often afraid to make moral stands and encourage others to live a better life. We prefer to say, "That's not my business", or, "I do not believe it is right, but that is your choice."
While we are not called to tell everyone what to do, we are still called to be morally concerned for the welfare of others. In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, draws a stark picture of hell. Hell is like a great, vast city inhabited only at its outer edges, with rows and rows of empty houses in the middle. These houses in the middle are empty because everyone who once lived there has quarreled with the neighbors and moved. Then, they quarreled with the new neighbors and moved again, leaving the streets and the houses of their old neighborhoods empty and barren. Those in hell are only concerned about themselves. That, Lewis says, is how hell has gotten so large. It is empty at its center and inhabited only at the outer edges because everyone chose distance instead of honest confrontation when it came to dealing with their relationships. He also states, "...some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development of adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error."
Just as we should not be afraid to witness to others our moral beliefs, we should be open to criticism ourselves. Norman Vincent Peale writes, "The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." As a priest I am always very happy to hear the praises of people but not always open to hear negative remarks. I expect everyone to be mesmerized by all that I say every Sunday. Archbishop George Niederauer used to tell us when I was in the Seminary, "It is easy to forgive someone who bores you, but more difficult to forgive someone who is bored by you." To become a better preacher I need to hear when I am good and I need to be open to criticism when I am not so good.
Life would be easier for all of us if we just called the police or contacted our attorney every time we are in conflict with someone else. Jesus is reminding us today, that that other person is our brother or our sister and we are called to treat them with love and respect. That means, when it is necessary, Christian Charity demands that we encourage one another to live the moral life and that we are open to others helping us to live as better Christians. We need each other! We need to praise and encourage where it is needed and we also need to admonish one another when it will lead to their spiritual growth.
I am happy to announce Next Sunday we will be having the GRAND OPENING of our Stella Maris Bookstore. We have a beautiful selection of rosaries, statuary, cards, books and many other religious items. Many thanks to all who have been working so hard to put it together, both financially and physically. Please join us for our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 8:30 A.M. Sunday, September 11, 2011. We will have activities for the children and all prices will be discounted by 10%.
Father John Provenza