Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all of you!
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
September 30/October 1, 2023
Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Phil 2: 1-11; Matthew 21: 28-32
Today’s Gospel parable should evoke a deep response in us. Jesus is saying “prostitutes and tax collectors” are entering the Kingdom of God! People we place at the bottom of our social ladders are getting to heaven before us. Maybe this should make us stop and think.
Our eternal life is all about divine mercy and our freedom to accept or reject it at any moment.
Divine Mercy, the image of which is right here, below this ambo, the image St. Faustina saw, mercy being poured out into the world, into our hearts, and offered to all.
All those we put on the margins of society and Church, all those on the peripheries (to use the word Pope Francis uses), all those we tend to condemn, they may by entering the Kingdom of God before you and me because of God’s mercy.
God has a deep love for the wayward in his kingdom. He has a heart for the man or woman on the fringes. He desires to be reunited with the one who is lost and confused. He wants us, we who now are trying to follow God’s will, to go out to them and bring them back. Salvation is available to the lost right up to the last moment, and our freedom to accept or reject it remains until our last breath. God is fully aware of our constant need for his mercy and how frail we are without it. He tells those away from him “Come home! Mercy is given to you!”
God also deeply loves his followers, you and me. He says to us who are close to him, “I will be with you until the last moment. Accept my grace and mercy up to the very end. Be on guard! Don’t be complacent. Be vigilant and at every moment accept the mercy I give to you. Do not to falter in the end.”
The feelings we have in hearing this can be strong and deep. We all too easily reject God’s mercy and we underestimate our freedom to accept or reject it.
God extends his mercy to each of us. It is offered. What do you say when confronted by God’s mercy, mercy for you, and mercy for others?
Those we condemn might finally end up obeying God’s will, receiving forgiveness, and enjoying eternal happiness in heaven. Likewise, any of us, who right now are doing God’s will, might, finally end up rejecting God’s will and be deprived of heaven. It is possible.
Back in the 1970s, when I was studying theology in Rome at the Gregorian University, there was an idea swirling around, and actually taught by one professor, called the “fundamental moral option” which taught that what really mattered at the end of life is the overall direction of your life had taken. If your life was mainly being a good person, then you were going to get to heaven, regardless of how things were between you and God at the end of life. If you lived most of your life moving away from God, then that’s what counted, even if you repented at the last moment.
This teaching is and was an error. A big one. It made no room for God’s mercy, or for our freedom to reject or accept God’s mercy at any time in our lives.
Two examples come to mind. The first is the Good Thief, a man who was on the road to hell, but repented at the last hour and was admitted to heaven. The other is Judas Iscariot, a man on the road to heaven, but rejected God’s mercy and love in the last hour. Both men’s destinies were decided in the last hour.
So will ours.
I’m not saying our life direction is unimportant. I’m not saying sin now and ask forgiveness later. I am saying we all are dependent on God’s mercy each and every moment of life, especially at the moment of death. I am saying we need to remain faithful at the end.
This should not scare us. But it should make us think. Over and over again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you!’ Over and over again, Jesus said he came into the world not to condemn us, but to save us. So, no need to fear!
So, what is my fundamental direction in life? Is it toward God and away from sin? If it is, good! If not, how can I turn around? Secondly, all life is a grace from God, so do I really understand how much I need God’s grace every moment to make good decisions and remain with him until the end? Thirdly, what is my attitude toward others and their lives?
I ask each of you today to spend at least a minute after Mass gazing on this image of Divine Mercy, begging God for the grace to accept it, and reminding yourselves of how dependent we are on it.
May we live in gratitude. May we reach out to others and not condemn them for they might enter heaven before us. Let us stay awake and rely on God’s mercy to make good decisions right up to the moment of death, so that at that last hour of life (which may be this very hour) we may be at peace knowing we have remained faithful to the end.