HOMILY WEEK 31 01 – YEAR I
God’s Great Gift of Mercy:
Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo
(Rm 11:29-36; Ps 69; Lk 14:12-14)
Have you ever received an unexpected gift that touched you deeply, and even had an effect on your life?
The liturgy today invites us to reflect on gift-giving – God’s gifts to us, especially mercy, and how we can be gift to others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is sharing a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, who love attention, honor and prestige. Jesus uses that occasion to teach his host to let that desire go, and learn to give without expectation of anything in return. The Pharisees are to invite to their banquets the poor who cannot repay, and they will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
St. Paul, in the first reading to the Romans, reminds us it is God who is the greatest giver of gifts, and that God’s gifts are irrevocable. Paul then plunges into an exposition of the mysterious way God’s generosity works – a rather convoluted presentation on how the disobedience of the Israelites led to God’s mercy being extended to the Gentiles, and how that gift to the Gentiles will eventually lead to God’s mercy being received by the Israelites. It is like mercy will have its way, one way or the other – God’s generosity cannot be held back.
Psalm 69 builds on this teaching of Paul’s. The Lord hears the cry of the needy and will honor their cry by giving them the fullness of salvation. What shines forth from all these readings is the priority of the unrelenting mercy of God.
This fits totally with the two-fold mission Jesus as Messiah came to accomplish in this world – to redeem and sanctify; to save the world and to heal the world – in short, to extend to us God’s unconditional love as mercy, compassion and forgiveness. He of course is the model of gratuitous giving – so grounded in the Father’s love for him he could selflessly give his life for us on the cross to show us the depth of the Father’s love for us.
As I was nearing the end of my novitiate year as a young Oblate (a year dedicated to experiencing Oblate life and learning about the charism of our founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod), a fellow novice, Harry Lafond, gave me a beaded leather neck strap for my camera. Harry is an Indigenous Cree person who hailed from Muskeg Lake in Saskatchewan, my home province. That totally unexpected gift surprised me and touched me deeply. It sealed our friendship for life. Having nothing to give him in return, I could only thank him, and use it with great appreciation. It certainly made carrying a camera more comfortable, and I kept it until all the beads fell off and the leather wore out. I think it also taught me the power of giving out of love and friendship with no expectation of anything in return.
One day, I was shovelling snow in minus 10-degree weather. I was wearing lined gloves, but my fingers still started to stiffen up and tingle with cold. The reason I was wearing gloves is because last winter, while travelling in northern Saskatchewan for Christmas ministry, I picked up a hitchhiker who was poorly dressed and did not have any gloves at all. I had a very nice pair of lined leather gloves that I kept in the car for emergencies, and realizing he needed them more than I did, decided to give them to him. Unfortunately, I neglected to replace them, thus the cold fingers that day. However, the thought of the gift to that person more in need, with no expectation of anything in return, warms my heart to this day, and gives me a glimpse into what Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel.
Today the church invites us to honor St. Charles Borromeo, who lived during the Catholic Reformation, and certainly gave much away in his life. He was born in 1538 into an aristocratic family and, as second son, was expected to serve the Church. When his uncle became Pope Pius IV, Charles, only 22 years old, was created Cardinal Archbishop of Milan and Papal Secretary of State. Charles resided in Milan until his death in 1584. As archbishop, he chose to live an ascetic life, imposing severe discipline on both clergy and laity, thus provoking much opposition. His dedicated life entailed great personal sacrifice. He is a patron of catechist and catechumens
The Eucharist is one of God’s greatest gifts to us as a Church. It is also an experience of God’s mercy, making present the love Jesus lived out for us on the Cross. May our celebration today deepen our awareness of God’s gift of unconditional love and mercy to us, and empower us to give the gift of our love and mercy to others without counting the cost, or expectation of anything in return.