Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Twenty-sixth Tuesday in Ordinary Time: Far from perfect

Mother of Humility

Readings: Jb 3,1-3.11-17.20-23, Ps 88,2-8, Lk 9,51-56

One of the dangers of preaching and teaching and of ministry in general is that it is easy for people be very mistaken about you and to be mistaken about oneself. People tend to see you as better, or more together than you are, and to almost always see you at your collected best. In these situations one's insecurities, weaknesses, and the resultant struggles tend to get pushed into the background. This morning serves as a perfect example of how, at times, I struggle a great deal and falter. This is quite an unexpected and, frankly, unwelcome follow on to an earlier post I entitled Chaos Theory.

I was fifteen minutes late this morning for a communion service at the parish where I help the pastor when he is away by presiding at daily communion services (he is at our diocesan priests convocation this week). It all began when my entire family got up late because my alarm clock was not set correctly. Suffice it to write that is was downhill from there. Beyond that, my wife, forgetting I had the service this morning, took our three older children to school, which left me with the baby. So, I left for the Church with baby boy in tow.

By the time I got there almost everybody had given up and left, all except four of the faithful. Further, I was forced to preach off the cuff because I couldn't get my printer to print the homily I had prepared, to add difficulty to difficulty. In the end everything worked out alright, I suppose. I will apologize to the community tomorrow morning, an act of humility on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. One beautiful sister there cared for baby while I presided. We were all made whole by receiving Christ's Body in communion. Of course, I feel terrible. But one of the lovely sisters reminded me, as I was grousing about being late even after the service, "This, too, happened for a reason." Yes, God is in all things. At that moment it occurred to me how easy it is write, speak, and listen to Gospel. To hear messages we can stockpile against those rare occasions when things go awry, only to conveniently forget and act in an unChristian manner. It is so important, even crucial, to live the Good News right now. So, with that long introduction and admission of my own failings and weaknesses, here is the homily I wanted to give today. As I angrily drove to the Church my heart was softened by theses words God gave me for today. It is my prayer these words help you, too.

"To be or not to be," is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’s, famous quandary. Perhaps some of us at low points in our lives have wondered the same thing. This is certainly what Job is wondering is our first reading this morning: "Perish the day on which I was born"; "Why did I not perish at birth?" asks the afflicted Job. These questions bring us right to the point about suffering.

It is through suffering that we come to see, in crystal-clear fashion, the point and purpose of our existence. Very often we are distracted from the fact that God made us to know him, love him, and serve him in this life and to live and be happy with him forever in the next life. Speaking about the effect that the Russian Revolution had on the Russian Orthodox Church, which, under the Tsars, had enjoyed such privilege, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, head of all the Russian Orthodox in Western Europe for many years, said: "During the Revolution we lost the Christ of the great Cathedrals, the Christ of the splendidly architected liturgies; and we were vulnerable, we discovered the Christ who was rejected just as we were rejected, and we discovered the Christ who had nothing at His moment of crisis, not even friends" (Beginning to Pray, pgs 17-18). Too often today, with so many preachers offering a health and wealth gospel, we are prone to believe that if things go wrong we have lost God’s favor because of our sins or lack of faith. It is funny that these are exactly the reasons Job’s friends use to explain all of the afflictions Job has suffered, including the deaths of his children. Job, being wiser and more spiritual than his well-meaning friends, refuses such facile explanations, and so should we.

In the face of all the evil in the world, such as yesterday’s school shootings in Pennsylvania, it is only natural to look to the heavens and ask why, to cry along with the Psalmist "Let my prayer come before you, Lord" (Ps 88,3). We are sometimes frustrated that no immediate or audible answer is given. But God has given us an answer. He has given us THE ANSWER. The beginning of that answer is provided for us in our Gospel today, THE ANSWER is Jesus Christ and him crucified

This morning Luke tells us that when "the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem." Jesus is aware of what awaits him in the Holy City: his Passion and Death. As they pass through Samaria, a territory through which it was forbidden by the Torah for Jews to pass, and a territory in which Jews were not welcome because, for the Samaritans Mount Gerazim is God’s holy place, not the temple in Jerusalem. Hence, the reason the Samaritan village was so unwelcoming was because their destination was Jerusalem. But Jesus, unlike his disciples, did not curse when not welcomed, but merely went another village, where, presumably, he was welcomed. He does the same with us. Rather than call down fire from heaven when we do not welcome him in all his distressing disguises, he merely seeks hearts that burn for him, souls hungry for him, doors open to him. Jesus suffers for us and, at times, because of us.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes about Christ, "It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb 2,10). Divine mercy is the limit God sets to evil and suffering. The boundary is the Cross. As Anthony Bloom again reminds us and Job and our Lord show us, "God helps us when there is no one else to help. God is there at the point of greatest tension, at the breaking point, at the center of the storm. In a way despair is at the center of things – if only we are prepared to go through it" - as Jesus is prepared in today’s gospel reading. We must be prepared for periods in our lives when it seems that God is not there for us and during those periods of God’s absence, as when evil strikes or we are suffering, we resist the temptation to substitute a false God, a God of our own imagination, a God who does our will and does not ask us to surrender to his Divine Providence in both fear and humble confidence. Let us all pray for this grace.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that our suffering not only brings us closer to God, but also to other people --- as we open up about our suffering and share our vulnerability we all gain compassion and connection to each other.

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