I haven't posted any of Deacon Joe's homilies in a long time. This touched me in the face of this election year.
“Fumbling His Confidence and Wondering Why the World Has passed Him by…Hoping that he’s bent for more than arguments and failed attempts to fly…We were meant to live for so much more…” Perhaps you know the words from the rock group Switchfoot’s song ‘Meant to Live’. This song is very appropriate to our Gospel today.
Jesus asks us today to live for so much more.
In our Gospel we hear about denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel. This sounds difficult, painful, not very appealing on the surface. But what is it that Jesus is really asking us? We need to look beyond to see the deeper meaning.
In our first reading from Isaiah we hear of the suffering servant. Like our Gospel, this isn’t very appealing. Who wants to be beaten and spit on? Yet, despite this mistreatment, we see that the subject of this passage perseveres. It begs the question, why? What does this person see or know that helps him through the abuse?
Perhaps a clue lies in our Responsorial Psalm. Psalm 116 was written as a song of Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving is to God for rescuing our Psalmist from a very mortal danger. But we also hear of despair. How awful it would be to sense an eminent death and feel alone, where perhaps we look back and now feel we’ve spent our lives frivolously and are dying in vain. However, our Psalmist gives us the hope that God will save us and WE shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living. The Psalmist sees the same thing we heard about in Isaiah, but again, what is it?
Let’s take a moment and think of the person or persons we love most. Would you want any harm to come to them? What would you do if the threat of harm came to them? If you answered, “I would give anything, including my life, to keep my loved ones from harm”, THIS is the love of God. That is what Isaiah sees, that is what our Psalmist sees, the true love of God. They are willing to endure anything, give up anything to be united with God in that ultimate love.
The ultimate love of God is what Jesus is talking to us about in the Gospel today. We CAN deny ourselves, we CAN take up our cross, we CAN lose ourselves for the sake of the Gospel BECAUSE of the love God has for us. The sacrifice becomes natural, because if we love God the most, we will give anything and lose ourselves for that love.
Our reading from St. James may seem a little disjointed. The subject matter of the passage is faith and good works, however, our faith, which is a direct result of our love for God, will show itself through us in our works. Remember, we cannot earn heaven. Our lives should reflect the love of God inside of us and manifest itself naturally by our internal desire to bring the Kingdom of God here to earth.
There are two places in this world where God has blessed me with the sense of His Kingdom. One is obviously the Church, not only here at St. Frances Cabrini but wherever I meet a follower of Christ. You can sense a connection through the deep love of God that Christian believers share. The second is the Beaver County Jail. I’ve already lost count of how many times inmates tell me their stories and those stories strike me as identical to Old Testament stories. The details may be different, but I hear the story of Moses (had it all, then lost it all), the story of Joseph (abandoned by family), the story of Job (nothing seemed to go right), and the story of Jonah (I ran from God). We may think that the stories of the Old Testament were long, long ago, but they’re happening all around us today. The inmates I meet exhausted themselves in a search for happiness, not realizing it was the love of God they were seeking. And when they hit bottom and looked up, Jesus was standing there waiting for them. It’s at that bottom point that they’re ready for the love God has to give them. I think that’s a piece of the puzzle we miss. God has an ocean of love he wants to give us, but unfortunately, we, and I mean WE, only carry around a coffee cup.
An example of denying self, taking up the cross, and losing life for the sake of the Kingdom is found in our catechists. Today is Catechetical Sunday, and we owe a great deal of gratitude to our CCD and Religious Education Teachers. It’s not easy passing on the faith, let me give you some examples:
One of our CCD teachers was describing the story of Lot and when Lot’s wife looked back at Sodom she turned into a pillar of salt. One of the little girl students replied. "My mommy looked back once while she was driving, and she turned into a telephone pole."
Another of our CCD teachers was teaching the stories of the Old Testament to her class and said to her children, "We have been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times. But there is a higher power. Who can tell me what it is?" One little boy shouted, "I know teacher,… Aces."
In all seriousness, to our CCD and Religious education teachers, THANK YOU!
In contrast, we look at our world and see that world rejects God’s love. If you need evidence, just look at the current events. Violence around the world, and more division in our county than I think we’re ever seen before. Instead of self denial we see the world selfishly pushing its own agendas and attempting to conquer the opposing side by force. We need to remember, especially over the next six weeks, that the teaching of Jesus is not either/or, it is BOTH/AND. As Christians we have to look at our brothers and sisters in love and try to understand their point of view and perhaps guide them, not coerce them, to the truth of God. There are truths that cannot be compromised, but that does not give us license to respond to challenges in an uncaring way. Pope Benedict, in his address to the National Ecclesial Convention, and this was in 2006, said “We know well that the choice of…following Christ is never easy. Instead it is always opposed and controversial. The Church remains…a sign of contradiction in the footstep of her Master…but we do not lose heart…on the contrary we must always be ready to give a response to whoever asks us the reason for our hope…We must answer with gentleness and reverence…with that gentle power the comes from union with Christ.” The next six weeks will test our patience and our faith and while we must not be silent, we must respond in love. Unlike the world, which is always trying to sell us on something, the Church’s motivation is love. We need to tell the world that first and foremost we are Christians, followers of the Son of the one true God. We are not followers of a political party, or of a person, those things cannot save us and will not get us to heaven. We need the Church to help us navigate safely through the dangerous waters of this world. If we had to cross an ocean, wouldn’t it be better to be on a large ship rather than swim by yourself? The Church is that ship that will get us to the other side. As Christians we have to sift through all the things the world throws at us and find the Truth of God and the Love of God in all that we do. God calls us to rise above and see beyond. We can see beyond in the Eucharist. What appears to be a small wafer of bread, we know is the gift of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We receive the Eucharist and through the Eucharist we see beyond, we HAVE FAITH, we rise above. Jesus lives inside of us and brings the love we need which leads to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and lose our lives for Him, because…We were meant to live for so much more.