Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

World Mission Sunday

October 17, 2022
Saint Stephen Catholic Church
Weatherford, TX

Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

Today we gather in communion to pray as God’s people and to mark World Mission Sunday to ask God for His gifts of missionary conversion, prayer, and concrete expressions of charity. In his annual message to the Pontifical Mission societies, Pope Francis highlights these three elements of the Holy Spirit’s grace, missionary conversion, prayer, and concrete works of charity as the great contributions to the spread of the Gospel since the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost.

The corrupt judge described by Jesus in the parable from today’s Gospel reading is emblematic of one who needs missionary conversion. He has been entrusted with a mission but reduces that mission to a career of self-interest. The judge is not interested in justice except as far as its procedures fit his own preferences and financial benefits. The judge is more interested in his own tranquility and comfort than in the mission entrusted to him. Yet, the judge finally grants the widow’s petition — but for the wrong reason. The judge in the parable is an example of one who very much needs missionary conversion. Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?”

We are in a difficult moment in the life of the Church. This difficulty is not because of hostility directed to the Gospel from unbelievers, an opposition which Jesus taught us to expect, and which is always with us. No, the primary challenge of our time is that significant numbers of Catholics, including bishops and priests, religious men and women, and professional theologians, give evidence of no longer holding the authentic Catholic faith. This is the pressing need for missionary conversion among all of us members of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church.

Think, for example, of the bishop from Brazil who declared at the synod in Rome three years ago that he was proud of the fact that in 40 years of ministry among the peoples of the Amazon he had never baptized a single person. Think of the Cardinal archbishops of Luxembourg and Munich who have publicly called for the Church to change Christ’s teaching on sexuality and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony to conform to the spirit of the age rather than remain faithful to the hard but liberating sayings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Think of the German Synodal Way which seeks to remake the divinely given constitution of the Church by attempting to create a global federation of self-governing groups which can change the revealed faith of the Gospel by taking a vote. Think of the self-identified Catholic professors, intellectuals, and social media priests who in the interest of self-promotion persistently undermine the proclamation of the authentic Gospel by a campaign of misdirection and obfuscation designed to lead people to regard the moral teaching and sacramental economy of the Church as being akin to speed limits that are made by and can be changed by human authorities. “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?”

To have faith is not simply to have a spiritual experience as an individual with subjective opinions who then goes about finding a teacher that suits one’s own opinions. To have faith means to know the fullness of the Truth as revealed by Christ who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and as handed on by the authentic teaching of His Church with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.

Bishop Michael Olson celebrates the World Mission Sunday Mass at Saint Stephen Catholic Church in Weatherford on Oct. 16, 2022. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

As discouraging as these scandals may be, we must remember that this is nothing new in the Church. And that is why Saint Paul wrote two letters to his protégé Saint Timothy to give him courage to be faithful to his sacred duties as a bishop to teach, sanctify, and govern the Church entrusted to his care. Today is the sixth of seven Sundays on which our second reading is taken from Saint Paul’s letters to Timothy, and today Paul exhorts his friend and student to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from children you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Saint Paul continues, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Let me put the matter most directly: if Christianity is not a revealed religion by God, then it is a false religion. If Christianity is a revealed religion by God, then any effort to disregard what is revealed or, worse, attempt to change or to misrepresent what is revealed to be more palatable to our current cultural sensibilities is infidelity to the Word of God. More than that, such infidelity is treachery of the worst kind first exhibited in the Church by Judas Iscariot, and it leads to spiritual death by false doctrine exalting the passions, excusing grave sin, denying that some sins are sins, and even claiming that some sins are laudable and life-giving.

This is the reason that Saint Paul taught Saint Timothy in the strongest possible language: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

As Saint Paul anticipated, we currently live in a time when many people do not endure sound teaching but instead seek teachers to suit themselves and, having rejected the truth of the Word of God, they will wander off into myths. That sort of infidelity is bad enough when anyone among the baptized falls into such unrighteousness, but even worse is that some of those Catholics who have wandered off into myths also hold teaching offices in the Church and continue to teach in the name of the Church even while they subvert the Gospel and make a pretense of religion but deny its power to change lives by grace and through faith. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

The missionary conversion needed by us to fulfill the mission entrusted to us at our Baptism requires constant and persistent prayer. The prayer required is not only a private prayer but a communal prayer as the Catholic Church. In today’s first reading from Exodus, Moses directs Joshua to fight Amalek who has declared war on the Israelites, while he will pray for Joshua’s success. Moses’ prayer involves more than words. His prayer requires action. Moses was required to keep his hands raised for the Israelites to triumph. The battle was waged from morning to sunset until Joshua was victorious. Moses’ intervention was not only lengthy but also arduous work since it involved a physical posture that became very painful after much time. His perseverance in prayer required the assistance of Aaron and Hur to hold his arms up that he might not collapse out of exhaustion and fail the mission entrusted by God for His Chosen People of the Old Covenant.

Moses demonstrates that the prayer required for the mission entrusted to him is not the isolated prayer of an individual. It is the prayer of faith that requires the collaboration of other members of the People of God to bring it to fulfillment. The prayer of faith is not simply the prayer of a private religious or isolated spiritual experience — it is faith that is directly revealed by God and most fully revealed by Jesus Christ. It is not the accumulation of distinct religious experiences of a group of individuals

The parable of Jesus in the Gospel is about the necessity of praying always and not losing hope. The widow described in the parable appears to have an even more strenuous mission than Moses, since although Moses gets tired, the woman has been beleaguered with the discouragement and hopelessness of injustice. The last things the widow needs are the procedures of a gnat-straining bureaucrat. The widow is owed the concrete work of true charity that always accompanies authentic justice.

We can occasionally pray when we are tired, but constant prayer in dire situations is difficult and requires resiliency because we can begin to lose trust in God. Frustration, disillusion, and despair are great enemies to prayer, and in such situations, it takes great faith to pray — and it takes a habit of regular prayer to have faith. The strength of the widow is seen in her persistence, and her resilience comes from her faith in God. Her habit of prayerfulness is the single most important preparation for persevering in faithfulness in awaiting God’s justice. The widow teaches us what Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy: that without prayer, we are not equipped with faith to see the full picture of what God reveals.

“When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” Jesus is speaking to the disciples about the need for persistent prayer and that they should not capitulate so that they be spared from falling into the sin of apostasy (that is, to abandon the faith and doctrine that He is teaching them in obedience to the will of His Father). Jesus will most clearly teach this faith through the gift of Himself by His death on the cross and His Resurrection and ascension into glory. Every part of this teaching was handed on by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, who are ordained to teach, to govern, and to sanctify the entire Church and to teach all nations.

Jesus is clear in His teaching that faith is a grace; that faith is a necessary way of knowing the truth, and that faith is received by us and cultivated by our persistent prayer. Faith is more than spirituality or some vague religious experience. One cannot say that he is spiritual but not religious and honestly claim to be a Catholic. Faith is centered upon the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the mission entrusted to us is more than social advocacy and outreach.

“When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” Jesus asks each of us this question today. It is our patrimony and mission to give our lives sacrificially with love so that Christ will find faith on earth when He returns. It is our mission that He entrusts to us to pray persistently for the gift of faith that we not become indifferent to this precious gift. It requires our conversion, the fruit of prayer, and that brings about the concrete generosity born of unconditional love and gratitude for our salvation. It is the Eucharist, the sacrificial banquet of Christ’s Body and Blood that converts us and nourishes us in faith to offer concrete works of charity among the poor, thereby revealing the truth of Christ’s Gospel.

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