Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"Let us be more keenly aware of the Sacredness of the Holy Mass"
Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
October 16, 2011
Year A

There is a priest from Fall River, Massachusetts whose vocation story illustrates this truth eloquently, though on a small scale. As a boy, he was an altar server in his parish. For years he served the Mass every week, without ever thinking about becoming a priest himself. Then one Sunday something happened that changed his life forever. He was one of the altar servers that day, and he was kneeling at the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. That day, the visiting priest was very distracted during the Mass. He rushed through the prayer so quickly that you could barely understand what he was saying. And at the consecration, he rushed through the elevation and the genuflection as if it had no meaning at all. Watching this celebration of the Mass, the young boy became angry and thought to himself: “This is our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is the most sacred moment of the whole week, and this priest doesn't even seem to care!” It was his very next thought that became the beginning of his own priesthood: “I want to become a priest just so I can treat Jesus in the Eucharist the way He should be treated, with honor, love, and respect.”

In today’s Gospel St. Matthew informs us that the Pharisees and the Herodians are up to no good. The Herodians are political supports of King Herod, his dynasty and their cooperation with Roman rule. The Pharisees are religious leaders bitterly opposed to Rome. And yet, the two opposing groups come together solely to bring down the Messiah. Jesus knows that their intent is malicious and does not fall into their trap. His response is the key to understanding this passage: “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

The meaning of these words would have had a profound impact on people of His time and yet can have the same effect for us. What He is saying is that political and religious obligations can both be met. Paying taxes is part of our civic duty and does not comprise our duties toward God. Nor does serving God exempt us from supporting the government. But that is not all. By making this statement, Jesus implicitly subordinates the claims of Caesar to the claims of God. The coin bears Caesar’s image and inscription, therefore it belongs to him and ought to be returned to him. But what exactly “belongs to God?” The prophet Isaiah gives us a clue in the first reading, “I have called you by name.” It can be none other than the human person – we belong to God because it is us who bear His image. Our highest obligation in life – an obligation imposed on every man, woman and child regardless of nationality or citizenship – is to give ourselves to God. This is our first priority. Blessed Pope John Paul II highlights this point in a homily he gave in Philadelphia on October 3, 1978:“In a way, for us, who know Jesus Christ, human and Christian values are but two aspects of the same reality: the reality of man, redeemed by Christ and called to the fullness of eternal life… It is then in Jesus Christ that every man, woman and child is called to find the answer to the questions regarding the values that will inspire his or her personal and social relations… These values are strengthened: when power and authority are exercised in full respect for the all the fundamental rights of the human person, whose dignity is the dignity of one created in the image and likeness of God; when freedom is accepted, not as an absolute end in itself, but as a gift that enables self-giving and service…”

That which Blessed Pope John Paul II is trying to convey is that in order to learn what it means to be true and good citizens, we must first learn to live in accord with the bond that God has forged with man from the beginning of creation. For in so doing we discover the intrinsic value and dignity of each human person. And we learn that here, in church, at Mass, when Christ gives Himself to us in the Eucharist and we, in turn, give of ourselves to Him. It is here where we learn to be self-less and self-giving. Here is where we learn to give ourselves to God. In the celebration of Mass the sacrifice of Christ is made present to us – it is His sacrifice, His Body offered through the words and gestures of the sacred rites. When the bread and wine are brought up to the altar in preparation for the sacrifice, they represent for us all of who we are as human beings – our joys and sorrows, trials and difficulties, our prayers, needs, concerns – everything. Jesus takes them up into His own perfect and eternal sacrifice and what does He give us in return? His own self. As such, the Eucharist is Christ’s own sacrifice, it is truly Him present under the form of bread and wine, and it truly is food for the soul. It is this food that nourishes our souls, forgives our sins, purifies us from within – it is in this way that we foster and deepen that relational bond of creature to Creator. It is no wonder that future priest thought so highly of the Celebration of the Eucharist, because at that moment Jesus was communicating to him in a very real and profound way. Perhaps, for us too, even in the midst of these new changes in the language of the Mass, we will finally realize that Jesus wishes to communicate with us as well. Perhaps it will help us to be more keenly aware of the sacredness of the Mass and the due honor and reverence that each of us owes to God. As we are truly forced to review and reflect upon the new translation, perhaps we will begin to recognize our own dignity not just as Christians but human beings and begin to reflect, uphold and defend that dignity in the way we live our lives in our families, in our local community, and in today’s society in general.





Fr. Jon Reardon


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.




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