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Corporal Works of Mercy Fall 2023 Homily Series: Sheltering the Homeless

I bet that at least one copy of the Bible may be found in almost every household in the United States and some other countries too. The Bible may be inscribed with gold lettering onto a leather-like cover, with gold leaf adorning the edge of each page or it may be just a very simply produced book. Whatever the format, it’s an outward display of the reverence with which Christians hold what’s inside—God’s very Word. Scripture has authority over all people, but believers are those who freely acknowledge and submit to its authority and try their best to follow its teachings.

Our Catholic faith tells us that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and as such, it is a Catholic Christian’s ultimate authority. Because it is inspired truth, we search the Scriptures for all wisdom as it teaches us how to live an obedient life in sync with the example of Jesus himself.

Knowing God gave us the Scriptures, we are called to yield to its authority. The Bible’s authority and inerrancy form part of our Christian doctrine, along with our sacred tradition and the teaching of the magisterium. Scripture is how God speaks to us today and in the absence of the physical Jesus, we try our best to obey His commands through it.

The Gospel today seems to suggest that the parable of the two sons is very handy as a moral tale. However, as it is given, Matthew’s Jesus is not just using the parable as a nice moral tale that parents can employ one day to make their kids feel guilty for not taking out the trash or making their beds. Within the context, the parable is about authority and how one ultimately responds to it.

The distinction between the two brothers turns on action versus word. Jesus and his adversaries agree that only one son does the will of the father, the son who says “no,” but goes nonetheless into the vineyard to work. Actions speak louder than words.

Jesus uses this exchange to expose what the leaders of his day really thought about John. The chief priests’ and elders’ failure to believe and respond to John reveals the truth about where they stood, and thus which brother they actually represent.

Jesus’ authority, in contrast, is affirmed by the integrity of his words and actions, as well as by its outcomes: gathering and restoration, healing and cleansing, release from demonic powers, restored sight, table fellowship with sinners, and preservation of the least ones — all examples of the “fruit” of repentance.

Apparently, “believing” entails making a decision about what kind of power is legitimate, Jesus’ power or that of the Judean leaders. Only Jesus manifests a form of power that requires us to change our minds about the source, nature, and fruit of true power.

This weekend we continue our Fall preaching series … the corporal works of mercy and focus on our fourth theme: sheltering the homeless.

We know that the corporal works of mercy are charitable deeds that provide for the bodily needs of others, and standing at the top of the list of critical bodily needs are food and shelter. The fourth corporal work of mercy is to shelter the homeless, also known as to harbor the harborless.

In the Gospel of Matthew 25, it corresponds to, “I was . . . a stranger and you welcomed me”.

A roof over one’s head provides protection from the elements as well as safety and security.

Shelter comes in a wide variety of forms depending upon the time in history and the geographic location: caves, tents, thatched roof huts, igloos, teepees, log cabins, house boats, apartments, barracks, dormitories, shacks with tin roofs and palaces.

It is a terrible problem to be without adequate housing, and one of the most striking examples is the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph could not find shelter when they went to Bethlehem: There was no room for them in the inn. Accorded no mercy, their substandard shelter was a stable or a cave. When they fled to Egypt, again they were without shelter, and it is presumed that through the tender mercy of Jews of the Diaspora, they were given a place to stay. They eventually settled in Nazareth and enjoyed a permanent home.

There are so many in our world who lack adequate housing: victims of disasters, the poor,

the unemployed, the foreclosed, the disabled, military veterans, abuse victims, the mentally challenged and, today, thousands of refugees.

And we know that there are many charitable groups that serve the homeless, even the homeless here in Summit. It is surely a corporal work of mercy to volunteer or offer donations to these organizations and/or to do the person-to-person work.

Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless are all works of mercy. Mercy begins at home. It is as simple as parents providing shelter for their own children to welcoming an aging parent or a sick relative into one’s home. Where is mercy in our life? In our home? In our parish? What can we do better?

Our series today asks us several pointed and fundamental questions:

1. Do we accept the authority of the Scriptures? If so, are we compliant with the command of Jesus to give shelter to the homeless?

2. Or are we like the brother, who in response to the Father’s command says “yes” and then does not follow through – just walks away.

Someone once said that the Word of God is not a book of suggestions, it is deliberative and directive code for life. This week we are all challenged to examine our life to see how we are compliant with the Lord’s call to shelter the homeless.

Saint Joseph is the patron of the homeless. Let us call out to him for his intercession to help us this day.


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