Saturday, October 27, 2012

We are all the blind man...

30th Week of Ordinary Time, year B:
The stories of the gospel are really our stories.  Though the event and words took place many years ago in a land far away from here, these stories continue to speak to us today, the events in the gospel are just as relevant in our own lives as they were to those who lived them.
I think we are all Bartimaeus in one way or another.  In a sense, his story is the story of the human person on the way to God.  All of us can probably see ourselves at some stage in the Bartimaeus story.
The story begins with Bartimaeus sitting on the road, blind, and calling out looking for help.  Isn’t this a great image for humanity!  After the fall, because of Original Sin, aren’t we blind to goodness, aren’t we just sitting on the road, no longer moving toward goodness and fulfillment, but stuck in sin and death.  Yet, we never lost that innate desire for God.  As Augustine said so long ago, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.  Everyone in the world is looking for God, we are all sitting on the path calling out for something more.  Can’t we feel it?  Don’t we want more than this?  This life is good and the world is full of blessings and goodness, but in our hearts we are looking for more.  This is not just us Christians, every human being has this ache in their hearts, many people try to fill it with money, pleasure, power, science, you name it.  We are all searching for something more, but after original sin we can no longer find it.
Enter the person of Jesus.  In today’s story, Jesus walks on the road past Bartimaeus.  I think this this a beautiful way to think about the incarnation.  Jesus comes to us, God walks among us.  We are blind, but searching for God.  So God comes to us, Jesus walks among us.  God comes in search of humanity.
But, God never takes away our freedom.  There is a part of this story that I always find hard to take.  You almost get the impression that Jesus wasn’t going to stop.  Jesus walks past the blind man, and only stops when he cries out.  What does this mean?  Yes, God comes in search of humanity, but he is only found by those who seek him.  When Bartimaeus cries out for Jesus, Jesus stops, approaches him and invites him: what do you want me to do for you?  I will often talk to people who tell me that they feel like they are kind of losing their faith.  “I just don’t feel God anymore…”  Now it is certainly the case that our spiritual life has its ups and downs, and we cannot rely too heavily on our feelings; but, I sometimes ask: have you been looking for God?  If it seems like Christ is distant, it might be that he is respecting our freedom, he did not come to obliterate our freedom; rather, he comes in search of those who are seeking him.
When Bartimaeus seeks Jesus, he finds him, Jesus heals his blindness.  By encountering Jesus, Bartimaeus finds what he has been looking for, so he gets up and follows him.  Isn’t that why we are here today?  We were looking for Jesus, we found him, and now we follow him.  The last stage in this journey to be with him forever in the resurrection. 
So it seems to me that in the gospel story we can see several different stages in life, and we are all probably at some different point along the way.  Also, I think it is important to remember that most of the people we meet will probably be in a different stage than we are.  But, make no mistake, we are all looking for God, and we find him in Jesus, we find him right here in this Holy Eucharist.  And down to this very day, this very hour Jesus continues to approach us and ask us the same question: What do you want me to do for you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A long way to go...

29th Sunday OT Year B:
In today’s gospel, the apostles do no look too good.  James and John look petty and importunate: give us whatever we ask…  The others become indignant and grumpy, almost as if they wanted to ask Jesus the same thing and are mad that the brothers beat them to it.  I am always inspired by the stories of in the Bible where the disciples look bad, because that means there is still hope for me yet!  These apostles are the greatest saints in the history of the Church, but they were not always great Christians, the struggled and had much to overcome.  So if we struggle, if we have much to overcome, these stories should fill us with hope.  If we see ourselves in the apostles when they are petty and grumbling, maybe, by God’s grace, we too can become great saints.  For this reason we continue to read their stories so that we can learn from their example.
What do we learn from today’s story?  If I asked James and John: who is Jesus?  They would reply that they believed he was the Christ, and that is a great start!  But if we listen again to their question, we find out that they don’t really know what it means that Jesus is the Christ.  When they ask for places of honor in Christ’s kingdom, it might be easy for us to assume that they are talking about heaven.  But, I don’t think so.  Rather, I think they saw Jesus as a worldly leader who was about to start an uprising.  They were hoping to gain positions of power when the anointed one restored the earthly kingdom to the people of Israel.  So we could say that they have faith in Jesus, but that their faith still needed to grow.  They thought that Jesus came to rule the earth, this is why Jesus tells them: I can to serve not to be served.  They still needed to comprehend the mystery of Christ.  Christ indeed came to establish the kingdom, but it is a kingdom of peace and service, not a dictatorship. 
Also, look at their first question: we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.  What does this say about their view of Jesus?  Does this sound like a way to approach your loving savior?  Would any of us address a real friend this way?  Much more, would we say something so bold to a complete stranger?  It seems to me that when they confront Jesus in this manner they are not respecting him as a person, they do not love him as a friend.  Rather, in today’s gospel the disciples treat Jesus like a means to an end.  Jesus is like a vending machine: ok, we have followed you, now we want you to give us whatever we ask.
At this point it is good for us to ask ourselves if we ever fall into these two traps.  Do we have the wrong idea about Jesus?  Do we live to serve others the way that Christ came to serve us?  What is our relationship with God like?  Do we love and respect God our Savior, or do we treat him like a machine that should give us the things we want right when we ask for them?
How do we make the transformation?  The disciples changed only when they met the Risen Jesus.  They saw Jesus die on the cross, the met Jesus after he rose from the dead.  They had a relationship with the person of Christ.  No longer was Jesus just their idea of the Messiah, no longer did they treat him like a means to an end.  After they met the Risen Christ, they had a relationship with Christ and they lived to be like Christ for others.
The same is true for us, and while we might not see Jesus face to face the way that the apostles did.  We meet Jesus in his Holy Scriptures, we meet him in our life of prayer, and we meet him, especially, right here in the Eucharist. 
Today we learn that the apostles had a long way to go in their life of faith, and we might have a long way to go as well.  But just as they got their by the grace of God, so may we if we draw close to Christ.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

28th Sunday

28th Sunday of OT Year B:
Today we hear Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man.  This is absolutely one of my favorite stories in the whole gospel.  Every time I read it, I hear something new, I gain a new insight.  The reason I like this passage so much is because it is so real, and I think we can all relate to what is going on here.
The young man in the story is the “basically good person.”  He is a good guy, he does the right thing, he follows the commandments.  How many people, when asked, would say the same thing: I am basically a good person?  One question I always have is: wouldn’t it have been better for this guy if he never went up to Jesus?  I mean here he is, a loyal son of Israel, following the commands, living a good life.  He only becomes sad after he talks to Jesus.  Wouldn’t it be better to just avoid Jesus?  How many of us might think the same thing?  Maybe some of your family members think this way: I don’t really need to go to Church, I don’t really need all that stuff in my life, I’m basically a good person.  Isn’t being good, good enough?
This is a tricky question.  Why go to Jesus, why go to Church?  If I go to Jesus he will ask me to do something hard.  If I go to Jesus I will have to give up my sinfulness.  If I go to Jesus he will ask me to sacrifice for others.  If I go to Jesus he will ask me for something I am not quite willing to give him.  Perhaps it is better to avoid Jesus altogether!
But, we know this is not true.  Somewhere deep down there is a sense that being a “basically good person,” is not good enough.  Don’t we want to be perfect?  Don’t we want to be saints?  Don’t we want to be rid of all the emptiness and pain that selfishness and sin can bring?  Aren’t we looking for something more?  The rich young man in the story was looking for something more, and in Jesus he found it, but he went away sad.
Now it is certainly true that the story intends for us to think that the young man left for good, and perhaps he did.  But, I always like to hope that he came back.  I always like to hope that while he went away sad, he came back happy, that he sold his things and followed Christ.  I would like to think that the desire for holiness and perfection that brought him to Jesus in the first place also led him to make that hard decision, even though it made him sad.
I don’t normally like to talk about myself in the homily, but I think I went through the same thing this man did in my own life.  After high school I decided that I never wanted to go to school again (God certainly has a sense of humor because now it seems I never get out of school!).  So I started working.  I was a manager at Wendy’s for a couple of years, then I started working at a paintball gun factory that my uncle owned.  It was a great job.  In no time I was making really good money, I had a new car, a new apartment, a big screen TV, I had it all, so to speak.  But, then I became an RCIA sponsor, I learned more about my faith, I really started to pray and ask Jesus: what must I do?  The answer that I heard was troubling: go become a priest.  This scared me.  I always thought that I would get married and have kids, being a priest meant being celibate.  I liked my job, had nice things, and was making great money, to become a priest meant losing all these things.  I enjoyed spending time with my friends, playing sports, and practicing my hard rock guitar, becoming a priest meant going away to seminary where I would meet new people (although I never did give up on that hard rock guitar!).  For several months, I went away sad.  I felt like I didn’t want to give up all that stuff.  But, I finally did apply to the seminary, and I can absolutely say that Jesus means it when he says he will repay a hundred times more.  My life is amazing.  I don’t make as much money as I once did, but I have everything I need.  I am not married, but I have hundreds of kids here at St. Matt’s and at Marian that call me Father.  I like this “job” way better than making paintball guns, and I still rock out on my guitar…  Going to seminary was a bit scary, but Jesus is never outdone in generosity.
What is he asking of you?  You will never know unless you ask.  Don’t forget it will not be easy, it might be quite scary in fact.  But, listen again to what the gospel says: Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said…  Jesus is looking at each one of us, he loves us, he wants nothing but our good.  If he asks you to make the hard decision, don’t be afraid to follow him.  Don’t go away sad from Jesus, return to him and open yourself to his will.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The two become one flesh...

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
It is no secret that many people disagree with teachings of the Church.  So while this is true generally, it is certainly true specifically when it comes to teachings about human sexuality and marriage.  If you want to see a violent backlash, speak to someone about sexual morality who disagrees with these teachings.  I have certainly had the experience where bitterness and anger from normally quite nice people comes out when we get to things like living together before marriage, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, etc.  People can really go crazy when you talk about this stuff.  But, of course, we have to talk about this stuff.  Marriage is the foundation of society.  As we hear in Genesis, it is not good for man to be alone.  Marriage, therefore, is the building block of the whole human race.  I don’t think it is alarmist to say that there is no teaching that is more important to society than that about sex and marriage. 
But, this teaching is difficult to grasp and difficult to share.  More often than not we rely simply on negative commands.  Very often the best we can tell people is that Church says you cannot do this, that and the other thing.  It is a big list of no’s, which doesn’t really work.  So, I think there are basically 2 things we can take from this gospel today that can help us to both understand this teaching ourselves, and help us to present it to others.
First, this is not simply “the Church’s” teaching, as though human beings made it up.  This comes from God himself.  First, it comes from the very design of the human being.  God is a communion of persons, and since we were made in God’s image and likeness we are made for communion.  In the union of husband and wife, and only in this union, we find a place where the longing for communion can be satisfied.  In the union of husband and wife 2 people give themselves to one another completely, totally, and faithfully, and when they give themselves to each other in this way, new life can result.  It was God who created this blessed union.  So everything we teach the world about sex and marriage does not come from us, it comes from God.  Today we hear even more from Jesus.  Someone once told me: your church really needs to change its stance on this stuff.  How could we change the teaching when it is not ours?  This stuff comes right from God.
Secondly, what does God really tell us?  You can’t do this, that, and the other thing?  No, Christ holds up for us not a list of no’s, but a beautiful goal.  “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.”  If you wanted to know where all the hard moral teachings about sex and marriage come from, they all come from this one sentence.  The two become one flesh.  This union of husband and wife fulfills the deepest longing of the human heart.  If you think of the whole list of “no” teachings, this powerful truth is underneath every one.  Why is the Church against sex before marriage: you cannot unite bodily if you have not united in mind, soul, and heart.  Why is the Church against contraception: you cannot hold back something as beautiful as your fertility if you are to be totally united.  Why is the church against divorce and remarriage: if the two are united, neither can be united to another while their spouse is living.  Why is the church against gay marriage: only the union of a man and woman is capable of bringing about new life.  I could go on and on. 
So this teaching comes from God and it not a list of don’ts; rather, this is a beautiful message that if we are going to fulfill that deep need for communion that we all have, we will only do so if we follow this beautiful truth.  To be sure, this is a difficult teaching, a difficult goal to reach.  But, it is Jesus who gives us the strength.  Let us turn to Jesus in the Eucharist and ask him for the grace to live out this beautiful message: the two become one flesh.