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Bishop's Homily for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
[Holy Family Church, Honolulu (Dedication of new altar; Veterans Day observance with the Order of Malta)]

There has been much news lately about monuments to Confederate heroes being taken down because, to those who want them down, they symbolize an acceptance of the evil of slavery.  While I do not always agree with this particular tactic, it can definitely be said that there is no room for glorifying slavery when it is such a dehumanizing institution.  Whether we are speaking of the slavery that prevailed before the U.S. Civil War or of modern day forms of slavery in sweatshops, on farms, or in the sex trade, it is wrong to forcefully take away the basic freedoms of another individual and to treat that person more as property than with the human dignity he or she deserves.

But I would like to propose that there is another kind of slavery that is good.  It is a slavery that no one else imposes upon us but that we freely choose ourselves.  This type of slavery does not rob us of our human dignity, but, on the contrary, restores it and ennobles it.  It is our choice to make ourselves slaves to Jesus Christ.  Jesus never imposes this on us, but asks us to humble ourselves enough to be his slaves and, following his example, slaves to one another.  Jesus is not like the Pharisees who impose burdens on others, never lifting a finger to help them.  On the contrary, Jesus came, not to take our burdens away, but to make them light because of our decision to follow him as his fully dedicated servants.

St. Paul understood this very well.  He had many hardships and drudgeries for the sake of the gospel; he endured many sufferings and persecutions, and finally even death; but he did all this gladly because he knew the surpassing power of Jesus Christ to give him a dignity he could never have otherwise achieved on his own.

In our families we are called to be slaves to one another, not lording it over our spouse or children, but submitting ourselves to their services.  So many people these days enter marriage with the question, “What’s in it for me?”  If that is our attitude, then we will soon find ourselves imposing burdens on others and they on us, burdens that are too difficult to bear.  But if we submit ourselves in service to one another, choosing to put the other person first, we will soon find that true and lasting love is the fruit of this kind of slavery.

As we welcome the presence of the Order of Malta with us today, whose mission is to care for the sick and the poor, we know that caring for them can sometimes be a drudgery.  It is not easy to dedicate ourselves to others who have such demanding needs.  Yet if we choose to be their servants because we have first chosen to be slaves of Jesus Christ, we will find that Jesus helps us carry our burdens and ultimately gives us joy in dedicating ourselves to those who may be difficult to care for.  Jesus may lead us into situations we may find overwhelming, but he is always with us to help us carry our burdens, if we first choose to be his slaves.

As we honor the men and women who serve in our armed forces, we note that they know what it is like to choose to be the slaves of others.  They are told where to live, what to wear, and how to act in certain situations; yet they choose this way of life because they know that humbling themselves in service, they can exalt the world by bringing the true peace for which it longs.

We can have confidence about making ourselves slaves to Jesus, because he first made himself a slave to us.  He is the eternal God, all powerful, and yet he freely chose to humble himself to become one of us to serve us.  He freely chose to offer his life as a sacrifice on the altar of the cross.  The Eternal Word chooses to humble himself so much for us that he takes flesh on this altar in a tiny morsel of bread and in a small cup of wine.  He offers himself on this altar as a slave to us, so that we can eat his flesh and drink his blood and thus have the most nourishing food that can restore our health, free us from sin, and raise us from the dead.  He does this so that we may not be afraid to offer ourselves with him on this altar to the service of our brothers and sisters.  He not only teaches us by his words, but by his example he humbles himself to serve us.

One kind of slavery is imposed on others and dehumanizes them, robbing them of the freedom they deserve as human beings.   But when we choose to be slaves of Jesus Christ, humbling ourselves so that he can exalt us, we are ennobled, we become fully human, and we experience the greatest joy and freedom we can imagine.