Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily - Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) 2017

Our parish school is hosting an open house (tomorrow/today). I invite you to visit, even if you don’t have school-age children. As our wonderful principal recently stated: “Our Lady of Peace School is a Catholic school operated by the Parish and the Diocese of Columbus … our primary focus is to offer a Catholic education for the children, first and foremost, of families who attend the parish.” This is our school and I thank you for the support you have provided it – I am personally grateful because this is where I attended grade school and where my older sons went and now my Kindergartener attends. Again, I invite you to visit and see all the great things happening at our school! Speaking of my sons, my boys and I have an ongoing conversation over the cases of bottled water I have stored in the basement, which I have purchased in the case of an emergency so that we have fresh water. I get very “energized” when I find them drinking those bottles of water from the basement when we have great tap water available to them whenever they want. My wife Tracey and I have a similar ongoing “conversation” about our grocery shopping habits - I tend to buy in bulk, while she is much more practical and getting just what we need for the week. She tends to do most of the shopping, but needless to say there have been times when my bulk purchases have come in handy. Which is a nice segue to today's Gospel. The point of today's gospel is about being prepared. Yes, on one level, it’s about having the right stuff and the right amount of stuff that you might need in any circumstance. But on another level, it is also about a readiness in one’s heart and mind. As the parable goes, the goal of all 10 virgins in today's gospel appears to be to get into the wedding feast - the party! It could be argued that the five virgins who ran out of oil were not really interested in going to the wedding at all – they were just going through the motions. Only 5 of them appeared – by their readiness to endure a delay in the groom’s arrival – to be really focused and committed to the goal of welcoming the groom and getting into the party. Yes, this is just a parable, and the lack of charity and hospitality of the 5 prepared virgins and the groom himself fails by Christian standards – but that is not the point. The point again is being spiritually prepared – ready in our hearts and minds to endure even delay, doubt, hardship and struggle to achieve our goal. For us the goal is to get to Heaven. This is not only our goal, but also our reward. Our goal and reward is to be with our God and to experience eternal peace, joy, and life with Him. And this is what we desire most! Today’s Responsorial Psalm expresses this reality beautifully: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts - like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. To achieve this goal that we truly desire and experience these rewards, we must be spiritually prepared – ready in our hearts and minds to endure delay, doubt, hardship and struggle. We can’t just go through the motions. We must "stay awake" as Jesus instructs in today's Gospel. Maybe not literally 24-7 awake, sleep is good, but nevertheless we must not be passive or inactive or empty in our time or words or actions. Think about those young girls in today’s Gospel – half were just going through the motions, the other half were “all in” - fully invested and committed and focused on achieving our goal. We must also be similarly prepared spiritually. And, yes, our readiness must include accumulating some stuff - we need to take care of our basic needs and provide for our family (even if it means sometimes buying in bulk and hording water bottles in the basement). But we also must be able to empty ourselves of all that we hold as self-important, all that prevents us or distracts us from surrendering to God’s will, God’s love – in that way we are completely focused on and open to God in our life to achieve the goal of eternal life with Him. So the obvious question then becomes how do I know if I'm ready – spiritually prepared - or maybe better asked how do I avoid Jesus saying to me: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Here is one test, of sorts, in the theme of preparedness. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago at our parish’s Alpha session. It is a passage from first Peter chapter 3, verse 15, where the author says to his audience: “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who ask you for a reason for your hope." The author of First Peter is writing to a community who is struggling to live the Christian life in a hostile, secular society that holds different values from them and who are also subject to ridicule and opposition - sound familiar? As Catholics, HOPE is the virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness (as our goal), placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul actually gives us a beautiful example of this in today’s second reading. As he writes to the Thessalonians, he gives his statement of hope to his audience. Despite adversity and doubt, it is his deep belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us new life and that for St. Paul is the reason for his hope. And it is today's first reading that reminds us that God will give us the grace - the wisdom - that we need at all times to be able to seek and find a reason for our hope. Consider the reason for your hope. What do you desire? What is your goal? What brings you here? What keeps you going despite pain, loss, hardship? What brings you the greatest joy and peace? The answer, I pray, is in part the desire for eternal life with God in Heaven. Your complete reason does not need to be some profound doctrinal statement (although it can) and it is okay if it is constantly in development. This is all part of being on a faith journey. The point is that we have working in our heart and mind this statement of hope – this reason for hope in our life. I get that this is hard. It's often not natural for us as Catholics to talk like this, right? We tend to be more comfortable in the liturgy, in private prayer and devotions. But we can do this - just as we talk with great passion about an issue that we care about or a person for whom we have great love, we are also capable of talking about the one thing that will bring us the greatest joy and peace – our God! And, if we can do this, then I have to believe that we are spiritually prepared to endure delay and hardship as we remain ever focused on God’s love and the great reward of eternal life. I have been working on my explanation and invite you to do the same. Pray over it, write it down, and even practice it with family and friends. I know that it sounds crazy, but if we can readily give such an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope as a Christian, then in my humble opinion, we are well prepared spiritually to endure any challenge AND are worthy of a response from Jesus of “Amen, I say to you, I do know you – because you know me.” May God bless you.