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Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Sept. 5: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: The first reading and psalm remind us of how fleeting human life is. Our lives are like grass “which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades.” The perishable body isn’t evil, but it is a burden that ‘weighs down the soul’ impairing our grasp of heavenly things. The main purpose of life, according to the psalmist is to obtain wisdom, which bring us close to God. We rarely hear from Philemon at Mass. In fact, we only hear it once during the three-year lectionary! It’s a very short letter: only 20 verses long. It was written by St. Paul to a prominent Christian in Colossae. The essence of the letter is to persuade Philemon to free his slave Onesimus who had fled to Rome where, after converting to Christianity, he took care of Paul during his final imprisonment. Slavery was a legitimate institution in the ancient world but Christianity introduced the revolutionary idea of the dignity of each individual person, regardless of social status, and the brotherhood of all Christians. The letter to Philemon is a perfect example of Pope John Paul II’s maxim: “the Church never imposes; she proposes.” In this week’s Gospel Jesus uses two parables to illustrate the cost of discipleship. Following Christ is the path to true freedom, but freedom isn’t cheap—it requires total commitment. Christ, “the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24) shows us the way to eternal life, but, as he says in the Gospel reading, we mustn’t underestimate the difficulties that such a commitment entails.
Key verse: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90:12).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “God’s truth is his wisdom, which commands the whole created order and governs the world. Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good” (Nos. 216, 1954).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Worship is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world. It is so precisely because it reaches beyond everyday life. Worship gives us a share in heaven’s mode of existence, in the world of God and allows light to fall from that divine world into ours. In this sense, worship has the character of anticipation. It lays hold in advance of a more perfect life and, in so doing, gives our present life its proper measure. A life without such anticipation, a life not longer opened up to heaven, would be empty, a leaden life” (“Spirit of the Liturgy”).
Life application: Following Christ, the wisdom of God, leads to true freedom. Wisdom lifts us up to God; ignorance weighs us down. Our bodies, like those of the animals, are perishable. Unlike the animals, however, we possess a rational soul that’s capable of apprehending eternal truths and discerning between good and evil. The Mass is the principle place where we obtain divine wisdom and partake in God’s goodness. It is, therefore, “essential for the right kind of human existence
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese.