September is traditionally the month of transition: we move from summer into autumn; from vacation mode to back to school; from pursuing fun activities to getting back to work; and from leisure time to a more regimented and structured day. Although some of these things begin in August (the beginning of school for example), the month of September really drives the point home that we are back into a more regular schedule.
This September was no different for me. As an educator, my year begins mid-August but by September 15th, I realize that we’re in it for the long haul. Summer becomes a distant memory. Although my birthday is several months past, I really begin to feel my age every time September rolls around.
By this time, we are well into the Ordinary Time of the Church calendar. We hear stories of Jesus’ ministry and the challenges he issued to his disciples (and to us). The scriptures may begin to feel more pointed as we recognize that the Gospel is not easy to live out. In this year especially, the reality of daily life is confronted by the challenge to truly believe what we read, teach what we believe and practice what we teach.
On Labor Day weekend, we were reminded to dissuade people from their wickedness. If we fail to at least attempt to call others to conversion, we will be held accountable for their sins. In the Gospel, Jesus called us to develop the principle of subsidiarity in our dealings with others. In other words, we should handle disputes at the lowest level. We should only bring in authority if we are unable to settle things amongst ourselves. However, all fraternal correction should be done in charity. As St. Paul reminded us: “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
As we begin a new school year, charitable subsidiarity should be of primary importance as we learn to live as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Unfortunately, some of us are great at fraternal correction, but not so good at loving one another. Some of us can use the law as a weapon of control, but are unable to offer comfort and hope to someone who is struggling. Perhaps this autumnal time should be devoted to become more charitable and less legalistic.
This theme of charity was further driven home by the readings we heard on September 11. This year was the tenth anniversary of the tragedy in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. From the first reading through the Gospel, we were reminded that “wrath and anger are hateful things.” Moreover, just as the Lord is “slow to anger” so too should we be “rich in compassion.” Even more telling is the fact that each of us, in either life or death, belong to the Lord. Finally, like a baseball bat between the eyes, we are told to forgive and forgive and forgive at least 77 times if not more.
In a society that calls for revenge we as Christians are exhorted to be counter-cultural and temper justice with mercy. It is not easy, yet so very necessary if we are to truly grow into our role as followers of Jesus Christ. In other words, we need to learn how to think as God thinks. God’s logic defies human thinking. God sometimes doesn’t make sense to we who are children of Adam and Eve. Yet, when we put on the mind and heart of Christ, God’s logic and understanding become somewhat comprehensible. For example, why would God give the same rate of pay to someone who worked for only an hour as compared to someone who worked eight or ten hours? Because God is God and we are not. However, we are trying to become like God.
The Gospel of September 18th challenges us with the statement: “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Why? It doesn’t make sense to our human brains. But to God who is overly generous, it makes perfect sense. All people, great and small, first and last, are loved equally by God. Moreover, all people are offered the gift of reconciliation and the promise of eternal hope. However, despite God’s generosity we still cry out as in the passage from Ezekiel, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Isn’t that an interesting statement? Things are not fair when they go against our way of thinking, but when we are the recipient of favor, that way is eminently fair and just.
With the readings of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we come full circle being reminded that if the wicked person repents he will save his life, but if a righteous person commits sin, she will die. The letter to the Philippians reminds us to put on the attitude of Christ which is love. When we put others ahead of ourselves, we learn to be united in love. When we adopt an attitude of selfishness, that is when we are alone. When we fail to do the will of God which involves sacrifice, forgiveness and attempting to think with the mind of Christ, we run the risk of losing the Kingdom. Again we return to the theme of the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Those who hear the word of God and attempt to put it into practice will enter into the kingdom of God while those who fail to try to live out Gospel values may find themselves ostracized in the Kingdom.
In short, the month of September is a busy time of starting over. It is a time to reassess and reevaluate our priorities. It is a time to remember in order not to repeat the mistakes and failings of the past. May this time truly be an opportunity for beginning again and putting on the mantle of Christ by working for peace and justice not only in our own families, but throughout the whole world.