September 7, 2013

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


About 3,350 years ago an Egyptian Pharaoh named Akhenaten decided to make worship of the Sun God the only religion in Egypt. He destroyed images of other gods and fired their priests, imposing an uncompromising monotheism.

It makes sense really. Every morning a star we call the sun rises. Where have the other stars gone? You can almost hear the sun saying, “Don’t bother with those other puny stars. They’re cute but useless. I’m the only star that matters to you. I give you light. I give you heat. Where would you be without me? I am numero uno, the real star of the show known as earth.”

Psalm 19 reflects in part a similar fascination with the sun.

[At the utmost bounds of the world God] has placed a tent for the sun; it comes forth like a bridegroom coming from his tent,
rejoices like a champion to run its course.
At the end of the sky is the rising of the sun;
to the furthest end of the sky is its course.
There is nothing concealed from its burning heat.

When each one of us rises, a similar phenomenon occurs. Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as numero uno in the universe, but each of us really wants and needs to be the star in someone’s life. This usually occurs in families. Spouses are supposed to be the light of each other’s life, likewise parents and kids, at least for a significant period of time; friends can assume that role as well.

Losing that “star status” is devastating. Worse still is the fear of or resentment at losing it. This can lead to seriously dysfunctional situations. In an old Ann Landers column a teenager wrote an open letter to her parents, complaining that her Dad’s promotion forced her to move away in her junior year from the high school, where she had been quite a star. She concluded with: “I hate you, Mom and Dad, for doing this to me. I will never forgive you as long as I live.”

When Jesus said we need to “hate” spouses, parents and children, this is definitely not what he meant! What he is saying is that he has to be the first, he has to be the sun outshining all the other stars.

Yes, his claim is outrageous. But in fact he is the only one who has the right to make it. It’s like the 2nd and 3rd steps of AA. “A power greater than ourselves” was acknowledged, and only then was it possible to make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

That’s the point of today’s first reading. We cannot rely on ourselves alone. We need God’s wisdom.

Saint Paul was generally not shy about imposing his authority, but in the second reading he wisely chooses not to do so. He sends the slave Onesimus back to his master, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother.” It’s clear that this “brother” is not the object of hatred; he is now “beloved” precisely because he has become a Christian.

The Third Eucharistic Prayer uses the biblical turn of phrase, “from the rising of the sun to it’s setting.” Jesus is the one sun that never sets. No other star even comes close.

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