Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

  • Wisdom 9:13-18
  • Philemon 9-10, 12-17
  • Luke 14:25-33

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Pride is one of the easiest forms of psychosis for humans to fall into and it is one of the most visible signs we have that the road to Hell is very wide. Pride on its lowest levels expresses just a simple idea that due to the things that I possess, I am better than the other person. That is, because of the wealth I possess, the good looks that I possess, the knowledge that I possess, the property that I possess, and so forth, I am better than the person who does not possess what I have. Pride on its medium levels goes a step further in saying. because my possession makes me superior, I know better for people who do not possess what I have. For example, they would say, because I have more wealth or more knowledge, I am, therefore, in a position to control how the poor and the ignorant should live their lives. Pride on its highest levels is truly evil because it not only says that I am better because I possess, and I know better for others because I possess, but it ultimately says that I am god, because I possess. This was Eve’s folly in the pride. For, her desire was not just to have the knowledge of God.  No, Eve wanted to be God.

For those who imitate Eve, and think they are god, the First Reading for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time from the book of Wisdom 9:13-18 offers clear distinctions as to why we are not. God is all-knowing, but the deliberations of mortals are timid and we are unsure of our plans. God is eternal, but our body is corruptible. God is free, but our minds are burdened with many concerns. Because God is unfathomable the human mind stretches itself out just to search for a taste of what it can never fully grasp.

Humans enslaving one another has always been one of the highest expressions of pride. Slavery envelopes altogether every level of pride into a little basket with a bow on top that is destined for Hell. Due to being born into a world where slavery had been normalized for millenniums and for too long being attached to earthly governments and their need for the legalization of slavery, the Church was slow in developing her doctrine against every form of enslavement, but for Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading from Philemon  9-10,12-17, the matter is clear, there are no slaves in Christ, but, rather, brothers and equals. We should also be reminded by Paul’s treatment of Philemon in regard to his possession of Onesimus as his slave. Paul believes that is better for Philemon to learn humility, rather than it be forced upon him, saying, “I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”

In today’s Gospel Reading from Luke 14:25-33 we have the opportunity to hear Jesus’ call to reject the slavery of possession. When Jesus informs the crowd of the cost of being His disciple; that they must hate their “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even [their] own life,” He is using the word ‘hate’, or the Greek miseō, in the sense of detachment, as in not being possessed by those things, as in idolatry. The psychosis of pride is at the root of all sins because it violates the very first commandment against idolatry; that is, the sin of substituting God – having other gods before God. Even those things we may love more than ourselves, such as our children, our spouse, our hobbies, or our career, we cannot substitute the love them for the love of God. As Christians, we are called to live with a healthy detachment from the gifts that God has given us; never believing that they are ours to possess in some way. These things are gifts, they are not ours to own. Also, we have to live with a stern rejection of disordered attachments to those things that are not of God; namely, lust, greed, anger, and etcetera.

It is ironic that whenever we elevate those things that we think we possess above God, we become anxious about those very same things; fearing that we might lose them; as if they are truly ours to lose. In this way, Jesus’ call to discipleship in Him, saying, “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple,” is related to His call against worrying found in His Sermon on the Mount, saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is also the teaching of the liturgy during the Offering Rite, when we offer to God not only our gifts and our work of human hands, but most importantly, our very lives. After blessing our offerings, the Priest quietly says, “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”

Together, these readings at the Holy Mass this Sunday point to a central intent of the liturgy. Through repetition of speaking and singing not our own words, but those of the Church, and through kneeling and standing and sitting not according to our own time, but in union with the Church, the liturgy is teaching us that God is completely other than us and that we are completely equal with one another.

This is why prideful people either reject the liturgy of the Mass or try to possess it by modifying it to make themselves greater in it. If neither of these options are enough, they will just try to destroy the Mass altogether.

Truly, the liturgy of the memorial sacrifice is a divine reminder that we People of dust possess nothing and we are all equal with one another before God. Everything we are called to do in union with each other during the liturgy is a reminder that being united in the Body of Christ is greater than the pride of autonomy and individualism. This is another reason we need for the communion rails to return to our Churches. For, there is nothing more beautiful on earth and nothing that reminds us more that God is God and we are not God than rows of His People knelling in lines to receive Him as King. Yet, as Paul knew with Philemon, a free action of the heart is more beneficial than one that is forced. The liturgy can teach humility, but only the heart can live it.

This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.