Saturday, October 13, 2012

HOMILY - Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

In today’s Gospel, a young man walks away from Jesus shocked and saddened because he is unable, even unwilling to grasp what it means to be in relationship with God – unable and unwilling to give up anything and everything that keeps him believing and trusting in God completely. One thousand years ago, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was able to give up everything to be in relationship with God. The son of a feudal lord in France and groomed to be knight, Bernard at age 21 decided to give up his wealth and enter monastic life. Bernard was known to be touchy and judgmental and as a reformer within the Church and the government. Later in life he was asked by the pope to preach for the Second Crusade, which ended in disaster. Although he condemned its evil practices, Bernard was blamed for the Crusade’s failure and died under a cloud of dishonor. It was this personality and experiences that shaped his thinking and writing as a Doctor of the Church. Our wonderful teacher Bishop Campbell introduced me to the writings of St. Bernard. In speaking with parish religious educators a couple of weeks ago and again last Friday in speaking to a gathering of Catholic men, Bishop Campbell spoke of St. Bernard and specifically his three-fold understanding of what it means to believe and trust in God – these three are: the mind, the will, and the memory. St. Bernard speaks of these same three aspects of faith as also being stumbling blocks in our ability to love and trust God. I suspect that this was true for the rich man in today’s Gospel, it is certainly true for me, and maybe for you too. In today’s first reading, we read of the importance of the mind. The author pleads for prudence and prays to be blessed with the spirit of wisdom. He prefers these to power and riches, health and beauty. He desires nothing in life more than to know and do the will of God. This is all in stark contrast to the actions of the rich man in the Gospel and really to the Jewish culture of the time which associated wealth with being favored by God. This is why Jesus’ disciples reacted the way they did in the Gospel. They were shocked that this rich man, who presumably had God’s favor because of his wealth and otherwise followed God’s commands, was told he would not inherit eternal life. They were also confused and worried what this meant for them - they who had given up everything and followed Jesus. But, as the first reading concludes, we find clarity: “all good things together came to me in (the) company (of wisdom), and countless riches at her hands” - it is in the wisdom of knowing God that we find true wealth and happiness, a wisdom that can only come by separating ourselves from whatever it is that keeps us from knowing God. It is in turn the virtue of prudence that helps us to know God and follow his will and avoiding evil and sin. We need wisdom and the virtue of prudence to live as we are called to live, so that we do not walk away from Jesus shocked and sadden. While our modern society places greater emphasis on the mind and wisdom, St. Bernard focused more on his second aspect of faith: the will. God, out of his great love for each of us, made us and gave us the gift of free-will to choose to be in relationship with Him. The rich man exercised his free will and walked away from Jesus – and I know I have. None the less, God’s deep, penetrating love continues, as we reading in the second reading. The author was writing to believers who had grown cold in their faith and who were weary of making the effort required to be in relationship with a God who is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him.” It is also our God who knows us and loves us and who placed in our hearts a desire to know him, love him and serve him. And it is God who gives us, again, out of his great love for each of us, his gift of grace to help us choose good and to be in relationship with Him. Such gifts of grace help us to perfect the theological virtues of justice, which strengthens the will so that we will treat others with care and respect; fortitude, which makes us firm in choosing the good, even when it is difficult or costly to do so; and temperance, which helps us to achieve self-mastery even over our desires for pleasure and the overuse of this world’s goods. Finally, St. Bernard warns that in our faith life “the memory [becomes] confused by its endless forgetfulness” – that we forget that we are called into relationship and we forget how we are to act in this relationship with God. For me memory is also about remembering that I am too often hesitant to give up what I have, like the rich man; or remembering too well my failings and weaknesses and finding myself not able to trust and believe as I must because of my own embarrassment, fear, frustration or anger. At these moments, I find hope in Jesus’ two promises in today’s Gospel. First, Jesus reminds us that: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." It is not about me, my failings and weaknesses, but what is possible when I give myself totally and completely to him – for in him, all things are possible! And second, Jesus promises that when we are willing to give up everything and even endure persecutions for Him and the Gospel, we will receive a great reward eternally. These are two promises that I am willing to place all my hope in! How about you? This week, let us pray often the Responsorial Psalm “Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy.” Pray that God’s love – his Graces and the promises he gives us – may fill our minds, our wills, and our memories, so that we may sing for joy now and eternally.