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PreachSeptember 10, 2023
Senior Emily Brierly of St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, N.Y., offers a reflection at the end of Mass Nov. 22 at the Dominican Sisters' motherhouse in Amityville, N.Y. during the Dominican-sponsored weekend workshop for youth on preaching. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Preachers and those in ministry confront a common dilemma: “We never live up to what we want to be,” says Patricia Bruno, O.P. “However, I think that preaching helps direct our own lives,” she adds. “It’s hard to say something in public that you don’t really believe.”

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Patricia Bruno, is a Dominican sister of San Rafael in California. She is an experienced teacher and has served her congregation as both promoter of justice and preaching. She directs retreats at which she preaches—often with fellow Dominican Jude Siciliano, whom we just heard on the last episode of Preach. She also serves as a spiritual director and writer. If she had a braid going down the back of her neck, she says that “one strand would be justice, the second spirituality, and the third would be the love that hopefully bonds them together.”

Listen to Patricia’s homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, she shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., her conviction that preaching is only one instrument in the greater symphony of the Mass.

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That’s a hard thing about being a preacher or anyone who’s doing ministry; we never live up to what we want to be. However, I think that preaching helps direct our own lives. It’s hard to say something in public that you don’t really believe.

Scripture Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading: Sir 27:30-28:7
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Second Reading: Rom 14:7-9
Gospel: Mt 18:21-35

You can find the full text of the readings here.

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, by Patricia Bruno, O.P.

Pope Francis will be remembered for many extraordinary, spirit-led decisions, certainly Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment, and the Synod on Synodality that has already begun to make changes in the attitudes of the world Church. And of course, Pope Francis, like Jesus in the parables will be remembered as a great storyteller. I hope you’ve read “The name of God is Mercy.” It’s a very readable book that Pope Francis wrote. It’s filled with stories, mainly stories about Pope Francis’ life in Argentina; stories that have formed him as a priest, stories that not only give us insight into his life and faith, but also show us how we can be people of mercy. And that’s another thing Francis will be remembered for. Francis’ central focus of his preachings, teachings, and storytelling even before he was elected pope is: “God is a God of mercy.” In fact, Francis says: “Mercy is God’s identity card.”

Francis is not alone in this belief. He tells this story about a small older woman he met in Argentina, an “abuela” figure, a grandmother figure, who spoke to him of God’s mercy. She said if God had not intended to forgive everything, God would not have created the world. (That’s a piece of wisdom to ponder.) Each day we hear horrendous stories of violence. They’re too much to absorb, and all of them break our hearts. And sad to say we remember many of the victims by name. However, we also remember courageous stories of forgiveness.

Pope Francis’ central focus of his preachings, teachings, and storytelling even before he was elected pope is: “God is a God of mercy.”

One of the stories that stands out, particularly in my memory, is the one that took place on February 1st. The first day of Black History month this year, Tyre Nichols was brutally murdered in Memphis. At his funeral, his mother, RowVaughn Wells spoke those incredible words. I hope I will never forget: “My son loved me to death and I loved him to death. I promise you the only thing that’s keeping me going is the fact that I really, truly believe my son was sent here on an assignment from God. And I guess his assignment is done.”

An extraordinary statement from a woman of extraordinary faith. We know she’s a member of the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, and we know from her words that God and RowVaughn Wells must have an extraordinary relationship. Forgiveness is complicated. It’s never easy. Yet it sounds as though RowVaughn Wells has already started that strenuous journey, and my suspicion is that each of us has also had to walk that road; different scenarios, different circumstances. Yet as we look back on those hard days or years, we give thanks, realizing that it was God’s grace that helped us to let go and forgive.

The parable we have today of the unforgiving servant is full of hyperbole. From the very beginning of the paragraph to the very last line, Jesus uses hyperbole. Not a surprise. He’s a Middle Eastern man, and he often exaggerates, so his listeners will get the point of what he’s saying. I don’t know about you, but my mother used to do that when we were growing up. She’d say: “If you do that another time, I’m going to disown you.” Well, she wasn’t going to disown us, but we got the point. And Jesus does the same thing in his parables. He exaggerates things to shock his listeners then and now so we get the point. I’m sure Peter was shocked, forgiving seven times sounded more than enough for Peter, and perhaps for us too, but it wasn’t enough for Jesus. 77 times Jesus says, in other words, don’t bother counting. It’s like the stars in the sky, the sand and the seashore; too many forgivenesses to count.

Jesus exaggerates things to shock his listeners then and now so we get the point.

It’s the way God forgives us. Or to use the words of the grandmother, the abuela Pope Francis met in Argentina. “If God had not intended to forgive everything, God would not have created the world.” Yes, this parable, like the other parables, is complex. The unjust steward in the parable had a 10,000-talent debt, an enormous debt he could never repay. In a modern world, it would be like trying to pay off the national debt. Impossible, especially since the steward and his family would be in prison, absolutely impossible. It’s a sad parable, not only because the unjust steward doesn’t forgive the debt of someone who owes him just a small amount of money, but especially sad because the unjust steward was blind to the generosity of the king, and his blindness sucked up any sense of joy in his life, even the extravagant joy of being totally forgiven a debt he could never repay.

As we listen to the parable, we begin to realize that Jesus isn’t talking about money or financial debt. Something else is going on in the parable. The real plot, the real story is about God, a God who calls us to remember what God has done for us. God has forgiven us large and small offenses; our jealousies, our arrogance, our inconsistencies, small-mindedness, and so much more, like the steward in the parable who incurred an enormous debt. We too can never repay God for the abundant mercy we have received. This parable is a wisdom story that begs us to ponder the immeasurable love and mercy of God. It’s a story of grace, a grace that helps us see that something beyond the human is at work in our lives that helps us walk the path of forgiveness. A grace that in this parable is named mercy.

This parable is a wisdom story that begs us to ponder the immeasurable love and mercy of God.

The parable reveals the very heart of God, a heart of love, our God who is mercy upon mercy upon mercy, as Thomas Merton says, his experience of God was. And Merton isn’t the only one that holds that wisdom. A couple of days ago, we had a hundredth birthday party for a friend of mine; a grandmother figure, a great grandmother, a wisdom figure for sure. So we asked her, what wisdom has she learned over a hundred years? What was she grateful for? She said she was “grateful for her family and her friends, especially those of us who were at her party, and she said, “I’m grateful for my faith.” She said she had learned a lot during her life; she learned to be less judgmental, more forgiving, to let go of the small things and to be more accepting of others. And she said, “I’m grateful to God for accepting me exactly as I am, and I’m grateful to God for a hundred years of life, a hundred years of forgiveness. Just think I received a hundred years of mercy.” Each of us can say the same, maybe not a hundred years of mercy, but 40, 60 or 90 years plus. In fact, the very first words we said at this Eucharistic celebration today were: “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” And once again, at that very moment, we received mercy; God’s forgiveness. And for this we give thanks.

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