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November 20, 1987     The Message
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November 20, 1987

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November 20, 1987 I Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 5 Mass Readings ' By FATHER DONALD DILGER Jesus' last will and testament sums up moral theology Gospel Commentary f0r Sunday, Nov. 22, 1987 Matthew 25:31.46 The scene is the imaginative gathering of the whole human race for final judgment by the Son of Man, the King, Jesus. There is no parallel to this scene in any other Gospel. There is some Old Testament background, some of it from Ezekiel -- today's first reading -- but that is directed more toward the unproductive leaders of the people of ,,od. Matthew so often refers to the Old Testament Ks being fulfilled in events of the life of Jesus. What he has in mind here is Isaiah 58:6-8: "Is not this the fast that I share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them .... Then shall your light break forth like the dawn...your righteousness shall go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you." There are also echoes of this scene in Tobit 4:16 and Job 31:16-20. The closing statement reflects Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." How does this judgment scene fit into the of Matthew's Gospel? We notice that in this gospel these are the final words of Jesus' ministry. They could be called his Last Will and Testament. If we glance back at the quote from Isaiah 58 we see that the deeds of mercy are called "your righteousness." Thus the last words of Jesus' ministry are concerned with righteousness. This has been a major theme of Matthew throughout his gospel. He had already referred to Joseph as righteous (1:19). The first words of Jesus in this gospel are concerned with righteousness in 3:15. The preface to Jesus' moral teaching in this gospel (5:17-20) sets the theme of righteousness as the goal of Christian activity: "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." For the Pharisees, righteousness was the perfect practice of the law of Moses and the tradi- tions surrounding it. They are accused by Matthew of keeping the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit (23:23). The law of Moses must rather be in- terpreted with mercy and love of neighbor accord- ing to both Jesus and Matthew (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). What Christian righteousness consists of is then stated in the six "contra-statements" of Jesus in 5:21-48: "You have heard that it was said...but I say to you .... " The last of these six statements has to do with love of neighbor which here even in- cludes one's enemies. Only then is the Christian "perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." That is Christian righteousness. But that is not the final statement on the sub- ject of righteousness. This comes in today's gospel reading where each person is judged solely on con- duct toward his neighbor. It is Matthew's final commentary on Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The good or evil done to others is equated with good or evil done to Jesus himself. If we accept our neighbor with deeds of love we ac- cept Jesus and his teachings. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees -- a concern and care for the outcasts and weakest members of society. Matthew therefore encloses his gospel with the theme of righteousness from the very first words of Jesus to the last words of his ministry. Love of neighbor is always the crown in the conduct of a Christian. Matthew already indicated this in the Sermon on the Mount by putting love of enemies as the perfection of Christian righteousness (5:43-46). Paul does the same in I Cot. 13. Without practical love, Paul writes, all other activity is empty. This is true also of the Gospel of John where the final prayer of Jesus is "that the love with which you have loved me may be in them .... " The Letter of James goes into specific detail about practical love: "What does it profit if a man says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and needs daily food and someone says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them what they need for the body, what does it profit?" It is clear from the above that we serve God mostly in the good deeds we do to others. The Father needs each one of us because he has chosen to touch us and for us to touch him through er- r dinary human activity. It is true, as Jesus said "the Father could send nlore than twelve legions of angels" to accomplish his work, (Matt. 26:53), but he has not chosen to deal with humanity in such spectacular ways. It is rather thb drudgery of human activity that he has chosen. It is his will that our minds, bodies, arms and hands become his own as we "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned." There are well known examples of such "arms and hands of the Lord," among them Mother Teresa and Father Bruce Ritter. But there are also examples all around us. They are the women and men who dare for the sick and helpless of their own families. They are the laity, religious, and priests who visit and console the sick and the dy- ing. They are found in the almost unknown work of our deacon community, a number of whom devote all their time or most of their free time to the consolation of the sick and the dying. It is to such as these that Christ the King will say: "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. What you did to these, my sisters and brothers, you did to me." Other readings for Nov. 22: Ezekiel 34:11.12, 15.17; I Cot. 15:20-26, 28. U.S. bishops hear report on pope's u.s. trip By NC NEWS SERVICE rq WASHINGTON (NC) -- Fac- ing a crowded agenda, the U.S. bishops opened their fall general meeting Nov. 16 with their president declaring that Pope John Paul II found a "dynamic and vibrant" church in the United States during his September pastoral visit. The approximately 300 bishops also found on the first day of their meeting that one of their agenda items -- proposed guidelines for improving ,, ,bishop-theologian relations and resolving disputes over theological or doctrinal matters -- was drawing criticism for be- ing theologically" lacking." The proposal was one of a dozen or more "action items" on which the bishops were to vote later in the week. The items ranged from a proposed statement on Central America critical of some Reagan ad- ministration policies in the region to consideration of a 1988 budget for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and its public policy arm, the U.S. Catholic Conference. Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis, NCCB president, said at the opening of the meeting at the Capital Hilton Hotel that those who said the pope was Coming "to scold us" or that his talks would be "irrelevant and insensitive" were proven wrong. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. In a presidential address which has become an assess- ment of the state of the church in the United States, Arch- bishop May said the pope during the trip learned of the liturgical vitality in the U.S. church, the depth of its ecumenical and interfaith rela- tions, its multicultural dimen- sions, and the vitality of lay Catholic involvement. Archbishop May also said the OAK TREE VILLAGE APARTMENTS 310 Rotherwood 477-5574 drm. from $190 2 Bdrm. from $270 3 Bdrm. from $350 Water and Hot Water furnished ASK ABOUT OUR CURRENT SPECIAL dialogue between the pope and the U.S. church begun during the trip would continue next year when U.S. bishops make their required five-year visits to Rome. Archbishop Pie Laghi, Vatican ambassador to the United States, added later in the day that the papal trip and the response to it made it clear that U.S. Catholicism is a church in communion with the bishop of Rome. For the most part, though, the agenda for the bishops' meeting, which Was to con- clude Nov. 19, was focused not on the papal trip but on statements and reports for the bishops' consideration. The agenda's proposal on bishop-theologian relations was criticized by Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver, who questioned both its theological basis and the fact that bishops had only a month to study it. When Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans asked if the proposal could be tabled, he was told his motion would be out of order until the bishops formally debate and vote on the document Nov. 19. One report that had been ex- pected at this meeting but was put off until spring was an assessment by a committee of bishops of the morality of cur- rent nuclear deterrence policies. The committee, headed by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, was formed two years ago after some bishops argued that the bishops' strictly condi- tioned moral-acceptance of deterrence in their 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace had been violated by lack of progress in arms control and in- creased defense spending by the Reagan administration. Cardinal Bernardin noted in a report mailed to bishops before the meeting that there have been rapid changes in recent months in U.S.-Soviet negotia- tions on nuclear weapons and said the situation "should be made more clear in the next six months." Other action items on which the bishops were to vote includ- ed: -- The Central America state- ment, which updates a state- ment approved by the bishops in 1981. The new statement calls U.S. policy on Nicaragua "morally flawed" and says the lives of Central Americans should not be used "as pawns in a superpower struggle." -- A national pastoral plan for ministry to U.S. Hispanics. The plan, among other things, calls for creation of small parish-based communities to give Hispanics a greater sense of belonging and to respond to what Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., warned Nov. 16 was the potential loss of 50 percent of the church's Hispanic members to other denominations or to no religious affiliation. -- A statement critical of school-based health clinics which give contraceptives and abortion services to teen-agers. Cardinal Bernardin, who also is chairman of the bishops' Com- mittee for Pro-Life Activities, said in introducing the state- ment Nov. 16 that the answer to the teen pregnancy problem is not "quick fix" solutions such as school-based clinics that pro- mote birth control. -- A proposal to begin a na- tional collection aimed at eas-, ing the retirement crisis facing the nation's religious com- munities, particularly nuns. If approved, the monies collected would be distributed through a formula developed by a na- tional retirement project for Religious to respond to a debt estimated at $2.5 billion. -- A proposed new rite for use in celebrations of marriage between persons of different faiths. -- Norms for the retirement of diocesan priests which stress that retirement is not an end to priestly ministry but the en- trance into a new stage. The norms urge dioceses to include their retired priests in diocesan programs and to look after the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the priests.