Saturday, August 13, 2016

HOMILY – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) (2016)

In my mid-20s, I had a summer internship in Washington DC and while there, I connected with the Catholic Worker movement. Several from that community were having a protest at the Pentagon early one morning, so I joined them on my way into work. Admittedly, I was participating from a FAR distance; so what I can remember are: 1) Martin Sheen the actor was there, 2) that blood was being thrown onto the exterior wall of the Pentagon, and 3) many were arrested that day. Needless to say, I quickly ducked away from the protest, proceeding to work as the Dispatch headline – Congresswoman’s intern arrested for throwing blood on Pentagon – flashed through my mind. That event still remains with me, even though so many years have passed, because of their act of civil disobedience, not motivated by politics, but by their Catholic faith and their commitment to following Jesus’ example of non-violence. Certainly today’s readings invoke the question: what do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? Recalling the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading: what am I willing to say or do that might put me into a deep, underground prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life, just as Ebed did for Jeremiah into today’s first Reading? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family? What is worth laying down my life for? Through the eyes of our Catholic faith, we can see and know that it is not for money, power, or possessions that we will take such great risks. Although we may be often tempted to think that for a million dollars or to be the CEO or president we would be willing to sacrifice everything. And even if we go down that road, we soon find that we are not satisfied, but still long for more. It is Jesus who points us to the one, true answer: love. Jesus freely and willingly suffered and died for us because he loved us and wanted us to know this love and share this love with others. It is this love that we too can find reason to risk everything. It is Jesus’ beautiful example of love – willing to suffer and die for us – that models for us what we are called to do and what will bring us true and the greatest joy and peace in our life. Here comes my plug for our parish’s Alpha program…it is programs like Alpha that we can come to know or better understand the love relationship we were made for, the love relationship we are called to be in, and the love relationship that will bring us the greatest joy, and THE relationship worth suffering and dying for. So, I want to invite you to join us this fall in our Alpha program. There are cards about Alpha in the pews to take home and even share with others; and I also want to invite you to come to a sneak-peak of Alpha in the parish hall after Mass – we will also have some goodies for you to eat and drink. Going back to our readings, Jesus challenges us to clear all the junk that keeps us from fully and freely experiencing God’s love – this is the fire he speaks of in today’s Gospel – clearing away all the possessions, and people and empty pursuits in our life that keep us from God’s love. To be a Christian requires us to act outside this space – although what we do here is critical and necessary to our faith! As we leave here and go out into the world we live, and work and play, it will not be easy, we may not be popular, and we certainly will not always be comfortable; too often we will experience sacrifice and hardship. And as Jesus promises us: to follow Jesus will likely result in conflict – households will be divided, parents against children, relative against relative! But here is the Good News: we are not alone. “Brothers and sisters: we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” – as the second reading reminds us. It is the saints who inspire us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” It is Jesus who has experienced the same shame, suffering, hardship that we endure in the face of opposition as we fully live out our lives as Christians. Inspired by Jesus’ and the saints’ example of perseverance, we must “not grow weary and lose heart.” So I ask again: What do I believe in? What is worth being jailed for? What is worth being thrown into a prison cell? For whom or for what am I willing to take a stand or risk my life? For what or for whom am I willing to risk dividing my family, my friends, my co-workers? What is worth risking your own life? I suspect that for many/most of you, your answer to my questions included family and friends. In addition for me, it is the issues of life and religious liberty. I do anticipate that sooner or later I will be faced with the situation where I will be forced to make a decision that may result in imprisonment in defense of these fundamental truths of our faith. Maybe for you and me, it might also be reporting some crime at work, or standing up to a bully, or confronting a loved one with an addiction, or challenging a cohabitating child or grandchild, or defending someone’s rights or dignity. The list goes on… This week, I invite you to pray over these questions; take time to write down your responses and then share them with someone. Be prepared to act knowing that you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, nourished by this word and meal we share today, and strengthened by the truth of God’s great love for us. May God bless you.