October 11, 2017

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 15, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

When people become very old, others will often ask them the secret to a long life. George Burns, who died at 100, supposedly said, “If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn't ask me, I'd still have to say it.”

Here are a few other secrets of longevity from less famous persons.

A woman aged 116: “Mind your own business and don’t eat junk food. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, work hard and love what you do.”

A man aged 115: “Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”

A man aged 108: “My secret to a long, healthy life is to always keep working. It keeps me busy and happy, and gives me a reason to stay alive.”

A lady named Katherine Knauss Sullivan was 96 when her mother, Sara Knauss, died at the age of 119. She once said of her mother: “She’s a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her. That’s why she’s living this long.”

St. Paul had a secret, too, not to a long life, but to a contented life. It might well work for a long life, too. He writes: “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.”

That is a good philosophy of life, similar to the other quotations. But he adds another element, which shifts the perspective entirely: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”

This shows the difference between wisdom and faith. They are not incompatible, but they are not the same. The popular saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” is a good example. Is it wisdom, based on the experience of the ages? or faith, based on trust in divine Providence?

A philosopher will say in a time of trouble, “This, too, shall pass.” A believer will say, as in our reading from Isaiah, “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove.” The end result is the same. The difference in outlook could not be greater.

As Christians, ours is a life of faith. Note the two elements in that statement: life, and faith. We are not called just to have faith, but to live it. We are not asked just to live good lives, but lives that bespeak our faith in Jesus Christ.

In his Letter to the Philippians, after listing all the advantages he had as an upstanding member of the Jewish community before his conversion, St. Paul writes, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil. 3:7-8)

I often think that the anecdotal ending of today’s Gospel, about the wedding garment, refers to that faith. There are many things that might attract a person to any Christian Church—the music, the preaching, the ritual, the outreach programs, the fellowship. These are all good. But without a genuine personal faith, what are they?

The parable is emphatic. Without that wedding garment, we may belong to a Christian community, but that’s not quite the same as belonging to a community of believers.

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