Sunday Sermon for October 18, 2020, the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 45: 1, 4-6; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21
In the second reading today St. Paul thanks God for the people of Thessalonica knowing “how you were chosen.” This might seem a bit strange, but obviously, St. Paul is recognizing that something was not average, typical, or natural about the way these people had come to faith in Jesus. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say: “For our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction.” These people were convicted deep within themselves because the Holy Spirit filled them with His grace and power. So, they not only believed what was taught to them about our Lord, but they acted on it, they lived it.
We see something similar in the first reading today when God speaks through the Prophet Isaiah to Cyrus, the pagan man who became the Emperor of Persia. The Lord reveals that for the sake of Jacob, His servant, and Israel, His chosen one, God called Cyrus by name, though Cyrus did not know the Lord. It is Cyrus who sent the Israelites back to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord. Although Cyrus was not Jewish, God put a reverence and respect for the Chosen People into the heart of the Emperor. His rising to power was not average, typical, or normal; God called him, and Cyrus acted on what had been revealed to him.
We can contrast these out of the ordinary calls of the Thessalonians and of Cyrus with the more ordinary call of the Pharisees. Cyrus was a politician who had to run an empire, but was convicted deeply to do the will of God. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were religious men who seem to be deeply convicted about worldly or political concerns rather than the concerns of God. Undoubtedly, these were good men who wanted to serve the Lord, but they wanted to serve the Lord on their own terms rather than allow the Holy Spirit to lead them.
Over the centuries we have had the same problem in the Church. We have good men who want to become priests, but then ambition bites them and they become more focused on their “career” than their vocation. Somehow, the Holy Spirit is kept at bay and these men do not allow themselves to be deeply convicted regarding the Faith. If they are truly good men, they will not deny the Faith, but their concern is far more for political correctness and personal gain than for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Of course, this is not limited to the hierarchy. Coupled with the politically motivated clerics are the laity who use their money or position to influence decisions according to their desires. Again, although buildings may be built or programs launched, it is far more for personal gain than for the glory of God or the salvation of souls.
One of the perennial tragedies that exists in the Church, and I am sure it existed in Judaism before the Church came to be, is the problem St. Stephen addressed to the people immediately before they stoned him to death: “Stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.” God raised up Saints who, like the Thessalonians, received the Gospel with deep conviction, with power, and the Holy Spirit. There are not many Saints who have not been persecuted by the Bishops, the priests, and the people. Surely, there are some who love the Saints and allow the Holy Spirit to operate in them, but often these are the ones the politically correct crowd would think to be beneath them.
Recall that our Lord told the Jewish leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before them. The sinners, the outcasts of the world, believed in St. John the Baptist and in Jesus; they were convicted, they gave up their sinful life, and they wanted to live out their call. Sadly, nothing has changed. When the Holy Spirit deeply convicts someone, we tend to ignore them, look down on them, or come up with some reason why we do not need to listen or change.
We are living in an extraordinary time and it will require extraordinary virtue to persevere. God could have created you at some other time in history, but He chose to create you now. He has called you! Are you willing to allow the Holy Spirit to operate in you with His divine power? Are you willing to give God what is God’s? Too many fawn over Caesar for personal gain. Give to God what is God’s! Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you, His chosen one, to live for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.