Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3, 2023

September 3, 2023


September 3, 2023

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time





Today, September 3, is midway through Labor Day weekend in the United States and Canada. Labor Day is a day to celebrate workers, for all to rest from labor. It marks the ending of Summer, as the Northern Hemisphere moves toward Autumn. The weather will be getting cooler, even cold. Our dear neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere are looking forward to the first sight of Spring, as they shed the dark and cold of Winter. No matter the season, travel can be difficult.

Do you ever wonder how the traveling people are doing when you hear about a hurricane or flood? Where were they going? Why? Who was with them? Who even knew they went away?

Today, for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time, the Church gives us three readings about our journeys. When called, we went. On arrival, we got instructions. On settling in, we learned what it was all about.

Today the Church also remembers two saints, one ancient, one medieval. Each spent a good deal of time “on the road.”

Saint Phoebe, Deacon of the Church at Cenchreae, lived in the first century near the Greek port of Corinth. She, as you may know, brought Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We know very little else about her, except that she made the trip—it would be some 750 miles by sea and over land, even farther only by boat.

Saint Gregory the Great came along later. In the sixth-century, Gregory was classically educated in the liberal arts and in law. He was religious—his great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III—and he left his position as prefect of Rome to become a Benedictine monk. Soon, Pope Pelagius II called Gregory to become a deacon of Rome but sent him off to Constantinople (perhaps 750 miles away) as his legate. By the time the Deacon Gregory was fifty he was elected bishop of Rome, and pope.

What were they thinking? Phoebe, sent off to the small Christian community in Rome, Gregory to negotiate peace terms in Constantinople? Did the words of Jeremiah echo in their minds: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” They were called by God to be Christians. They accepted the call and went where they were asked. Did a ship they sailed on leak? Was the weather hot, or freezing cold? Did their traveling companions, once they found out where they were going, avoid them, snickering in the background about their stupidity, getting involved in the Christian story? Did Jeremiah’s words haunt them? “…the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” How many times did they want to quit? Did they say aloud, or hear the voice in their sleepless nights, “I will not mention him, I will speak his name no more.”?

They got where they were going. Gregory had Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the one Phoebe carried five centuries before. The words they brought were their own instructions, too. Can you hear Phoebe preach? “Brothers and sisters, Paul sends greetings and instructions. ‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is pleasing and perfect.’ This is from the 12th chapter of the letter he sends you.” Will you imagine Gregory, turning these words over and over in his mind? He would have preferred to stay in his monastery, you know.

No doubt at some point they each learned what it is all about. Today’s reading from Matthew recalls Jesus explaining things to his apostles. Jesus told them things would get rough, very rough. He would be tortured and killed, but “raised on the third day.” Peter, as Matthew writes, was having nothing of it. But Jesus insisted, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” At what point did Phoebe and Gregory accept, fully accept their crosses? Was it when some Roman man made a snide comment to Phoebe? Did he ask why she was in Rome? Did he threaten her, even screaming that no woman should be teaching? And what about Gregory? Were there comments often, maybe always, made behind his back? Was there jealousy of his family, of their land holdings in Rome and Sicily? Did someone mutter, “he’s not so smart, he’s only well-connected”?

No doubt they heard the comments. People are only too happy to let you know when you, your work, your very life has been discredited. Slander is a favorite indoor sport of too many people, even some who claim to be religious.

How has your journey been? How many times have you quit, or at least threatened to? How many times have you thought it is just too hard, too far, too dangerous, to be and to do what God calls you to be and to do? How many times have you tried to ignore the truth of the Cross of Christ, the reality of what it means to be a Christian?

Nobody said it would be easy. Surely Phoebe and Gregory had deep joy and welcomed rest when they were with their own communities. No doubt there were more people who listened to them than who turned away. The people who ignored them did not really bother them because they knew, you see, it was not about them. They were, at heart, both deacons, and their hearts contained the Good News, the message of the Gospels.

When called, they went, and when they got where they were going, they knew (somehow) what they had to do and to say. As days turned into weeks, then months, they understood more deeply what it was all about.

It is the same with each of us. At some point we brush away the doubts and fears and understand that where we are is most probably where we ought to be. Then we can rest. We can rest from our labors in the shadow of the Cross.

First Reading

Jer 20:7-9


Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

Second Reading

Rom 12:1-2


Mt 16:21-27
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Phyllis Zagano

Phyllis Zagano

Dr. Phyllis Zagano is an internationally acclaimed Catholic scholar who has lectured throughout the United States, and in Canada, Europe, and Australia. Her many awards include the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice from The Paulist Center Community in Boston for “her prolific body of work that has constantly echoed the cry of the poorest of our society for dignity and for justice both inside and outside the church....specifically the dignity of all women.” Her groundbreaking work on women in the diaconate led to her appointment to the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in 2016. She has taught at Fordham, Boston, and Yale Universities, and currently holds a research appointment at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. Her most recent book is Just Church: Catholic Social Teaching, Synodality, and Women (Paulist Press, 2023).



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