This is a series of homilies for special feasts that occasionally replace a Sunday in Ordinary Time.
June 24: The Birth of John the Baptist
Bringing Others to Jesus
June 24, 2007
Luke 1:57-66, 80
Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. This feast occurs every year on June 24th but it only occasionally falls on a Sunday as it does this year. But this is a good thing, because it provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the figure of John the Baptist. And the witness of John the Baptist reveals one of the fundamental truths of life.
The role of john the Baptist in the scriptures is very clear. John is not about himself. He is the one who points to Jesus. His words are the words that we hear at every mass before communion, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John is the one who shows us the way to the Savior. John is the herald, but Jesus is the message. John is the voice; Jesus is the Word. John prepares the path; Jesus is the Way.
The witness of John the Baptist is one which all of us should hear. It tells us that the most important thing for us is showing others the way to life. If we can somehow point the way for others to see the depth of life’s mystery and the depth of God’s love, then we can truly say that our life was successful. Now this is an important lesson, because all too often you and I imagine that our lives are about us. We spend our energy and time trying to deal with our issues, our problems, our hopes and dreams. We spend hours worrying, “Do I have enough money?” “Will I remain in good health?” “Do I have the admiration and respect of my peers?” We imagine that our life will be full only if we were more attractive, only if we have more friends and influence, only if we are able to live in another place or to have another job. But all this attention upon ourselves, ultimately does not help us. It frustrates us.
Now don’t get me wrong. We do need to plan. We need to be responsible about our needs and our future. But centering upon ourselves does not bring happiness. Being self-absorbed leads only to loneliness and despair. This is why we truly need the witness of John the Baptist who tells us that the way to happiness is to bring others to life. The way in which we can fulfill our deepest desires is to lead others to Christ.
Parents know this. When they can look upon their children and see values and generosity which they helped place there, they have a satisfaction that no one can take away. Spouses and close friends know this. When they can look in one another’s eyes and see a love there that they made possible, they have a joy that cannot be measured. When we take good and try to hold onto it, that good will not grow, that good will not bless us. But when we find ways to lead others to goodness, that good multiplies and gladdens our heart. The things that we hold onto for ourselves die with us. The love that we give away lasts forever.
So in a world where we are told over and over again that the way to be happy is to accumulate things for ourselves, we need the witness of John the Baptist who tells us that the way to happiness is to bring others to life. Do you want to be rich? Then give what you have to someone else. Do you want to really live? Then lead someone else to a fuller life. Do you want to be happy? Then give your love away. Life is not about you. It is about bringing others to a fuller sense of who they are and the world around us. Follow the example of John the Baptist. Lead others to life. Lead others to Christ, and you will find a joy that will last forever.
June 29: Peter and Paul, Apostles
Discipleship and Irony
June 29, 2008
Today’s Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is about discipleship and irony. It would be best if we examined each of these qualities in turn.
Today’s feast is about discipleship because Peter and Paul were among the first disciples of the Church. They were the founding apostles who preached the Good News to Jew and Greek alike. Their discipleship shows us what discipleship is about. When we examine the lives of these two great apostles it becomes clear that discipleship places demands upon us. It calls us to a higher standard. Being a disciple is more than knowing a few things about Christ and coming to church on Sunday. It is about giving ourselves as deeply as we can to the service of Christ. Peter and Paul gave their very lives. They were martyrs for the faith. Now we probably will not be called to die for Christ, but we are called to live for him. And we are called to live in a way which is distinctive, a way which is different because we believe.
What is that difference like? A story will help here. This is a true story. It was broadcast this March on National Public Radio. A young man, Julio Diaz, is a social worker in New York. One evening coming home from work, as he exited the subway, a teenager approached him with a knife and demanded his wallet. Julio gave it over immediately, but as the boy walked away he said to him, “Since it’s a cold night and you’re going to be out all night robbing people, why don’t you take my coat as well?” The boy stopped, confused, “Why are you offering me this?” “Well, you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few bucks, so you must be in need. And all I was going to do is get some dinner, which I would still like to do. Would you like to join me?” Perhaps because he was confused or intrigued, the young man agreed. They went to a diner which Julio often frequented. He greeted everyone warmly and treated people with respect. “Why do you treat people so well?” the boy asked. “Weren’t you taught to treat people well?” Julio responded. “Yes I was. But I never saw people actually living that way.” That led to a long conversation between the two of them. When the bill came, Julio said, “You’re going to have to pay for this because you have my wallet.” Without a second thought, the teenager gave his wallet back. “Thank you,” Julio said. “And now that I have money, I’d like to give you twenty dollars for that knife.” They agreed, and the deal was closed.
Now I do not share this story with you because I think that Julio’s actions are what all of us should do if we find ourselves in a violent confrontation. I share it because in this story we see a man trying to be a disciple, trying to act differently in a situation which is a difficult one. If we are to be disciples of Jesus we have to allow the things that we believe to influence the way that we live, the decisions that we make. If we can not see any difference between ourselves and others in the way that we love, in the way that we forgive, in the way that we vote, in the way that we use our money, then we are probably not followers of Jesus. And we are certainly not following the example of Peter and Paul. To follow Christ means that we are willing to live to a higher standard, we are willing to be different because of what we believe. That is what today’s feast says about discipleship.
But we must not forget the irony. Both Peter and Paul were humble men, one a fisherman, the other a tent maker. Neither of them was adequately prepared to serve as the foundation for Christ’s Church. And they did not start out very well. Peter denied Christ. Paul persecuted the early Church. It is the highest irony that God would choose such weak and fallible people to begin the Church. But that irony is our hope. Because that irony reminds us that God does not choose us because we are so capable, but because God knows that we can become capable with God’s help. Our weaknesses can be overcome by God’s strength.
Discipleship is living according to a higher standard, being willing to be different because of the truth of the gospel. It is not easy to live in this way, but it is possible with God’s help. It is ironic that God would choose such weak people like Peter and Paul and us to be disciples, but that is what God does. In doing so, God removes any excuse. We cannot say, “It is impossible for me to live according to God’s standard.” God can make it possible. God will make it possible, if we cooperate, if we are willing to try.
August 15: The Assumption of Mary
An Example for Ordinary Time
August 15, 2010
Luke 1: 39 – 56
There are many stories in the Gospels, and most of them are filled with wonder and drama. A choir of angels sing at Jesus’ birth. The heavens open as Jesus is baptized in the Jordan. Jesus heals the blind and walks on water. And of course the great event of our faith how Jesus on the third day is raised from the dead. Today’s gospel does not seem to fit into this august company. It recalls a simple event – Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. There is no miracle, and there is little drama—just two pregnant women rejoicing in God’s goodness. Now at first we might be inclined to dismiss this gospel and consider it secondary to the other more dramatic scenes in the New Testament. But that would be a mistake, because the purpose of this simple story is to be the scriptural witness to the importance of the ordinary. The ordinary does not only comprise the majority of our lives, it is often the most important part of our lives.
Most of our lives are ordinary. We have some dramatic moments that we recall, like the day we met our spouse, or our first job, or the birth of a child, or the death of a parent. But most of our days are comprised of the ordinary routine, the repeating schedule of events. After they pass it is even hard to recall what happened, to remember what we did last Tuesday. Today’s Gospel helps us to appreciate such ordinary time. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth does not change the course of history. But it does bind these two women together in a relationship of friendship and love. It nurtures between them a relationship of trust and a relationship of faithfulness. That is no small matter. Because I believe that when we look back at the end of our lives, it will not be the dramatic highlights but rather the ordinary days of our lives that determine who we are.
So how do we live ordinary time well? Mary is our model here. Mary’s life in fact gives us a pattern of how to live in ordinary time. The pattern is this: ask and act. When Mary hears that Elizabeth is pregnant she does not get bound up in her own concerns and affairs, but rather she asks, “What does my cousin Elizabeth need?” And when the answer comes that a visit would be appropriate, Mary acts. She runs in haste to the hill country to pay a visit to her cousin Elizabeth.
You and I are recalled to repeat Mary’s pattern of asking and acting. Asking is not easy, because in order to ask the question what does the other person need we have to move beyond our own preoccupations and schedules. We have to place ourselves in the life or another. We have to imagine what good thing would bring them a blessing. And so it’s important for us to ask “What does my 8 year old son need from me? What does my spouse need from me? How could I make my mother’s life easier? How could I be present to a friend who just lost a parent? How can I show the colleagues with whom I work that I honor and respect them?” When we ask those questions, the way opens for us to act, and acting is good. But acting will not happen unless we make the space in our life to ask.
In each of our lives, there are a handful of highlights, dramatic events that we will always remember. But most of our lives are ordinary days of living. It is in those ordinary days that we must follow Mary’s example, asking what do the people in my life need from me and then acting on the answer we receive.
This might seem a very simple pattern, but if we put it into action the result will be more than we imagined. Because when we ask what others need then act on the answer, we like the pregnant Mary not only bring ourselves to others. We also carry Christ who is within us to everyone we serve.
September 14: The Triumph of the Cross
September 14. 2008
Matthew 20:1-16 / Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. There are two distinct ways in which we can view this triumph or this victory. One way refers to what Christ has done; the other refers to what we are called to do. We usually focus on the first way, on what Christ has done. This viewpoint is given beautiful expression in today’s gospel: “God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” When we focus on what Christ has done through the cross, we recognize that through his death and resurrection, Christ has opened the way for us to eternal life. That is a triumph indeed.
But there is another way of looking at the victory of the cross. We can focus not on what Christ has done, but on what we are called to do. This approach is expressed in today’s second reading. There Paul tells us that Christ was born in human likeness and humbled himself to accept death on a cross. By this action, Christ identifies himself with the weakness and the brokenness of humanity. He becomes a slave and thereby makes the cross a sign of all who are victims in our world. In this sense the cross represents all those who are broken by poverty, injustice, prejudice, sickness, or violence. By looking at the cross from this perspective, it becomes for us a call to action. It asks us to stand in solidarity with those who suffer.
This call of the cross to stand with those who suffer is given a powerful expression in a poem by Stoddard Kennedy, who describes and compares Christ’s death on Calvary with a visit that Christ makes to the modern city of Birmingham, England.
When Jesus came to Calvary, they nailed him to a tree.
They crowned him with a crown of thorns.
Red were his wounds and deep,
for those were crude and cruel days
and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham,
they only passed him by.
They would not hurt a hair of him.
They only let him die.
For men had grown more tender.
They would not give him pain.
They only just passed down the street
and left him in the rain.
And so it rained, the winter rain,
that drenched him through and through.
And when all the crowds had left the street,
without a soul to see,
then Jesus crouched against a wall
and sighed for Calvary.
The cross is a sign for us to stand in solidarity with those who suffer.
By humbling himself and taking up the cross, Jesus identifies the cross with all who are victims in our world. Every time we act with indifference towards those who struggle with poverty, injustice, or violence, we act with indifference to Christ. Every time we walk away from someone who suffers, we crucify Christ again.
And so the gospel today tells us that we cannot remain indifferent to those who suffer in our families, to those who suffer because of sickness or divorce or grief. The gospel tells us that we cannot look at those who lack adequate education or health care or employment and leave them in the rain. The gospel tells us that we cannot ignore the policies of our country. Because of our immense power, what we do either helps or hinders the progress of struggling countries throughout the world. Every time we ignore those who suffer, we ignore our crucified Lord.
And so we are called today to stand in solidarity with those who are victims. We called to stand in solidarity in the way that we think, in the way that we that we use our resources, in the way that we vote, in the way that we spend our time. Every time that we choose to stand with those who suffer, every time we move from paralysis to action, from blindness to vision, from indifference to love, we move this world one step closer to the kingdom of God. Every time that we stand with those who are victims, we realize, in the deepest sense, the triumph of the cross.