Saturday, February 10, 2018

HOMILY - Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B (2018)

I was having coffee with a close friend several weeks ago and we got into this great discussion. We were discussing whether it's easier to become a Christian and sustain that faith in wealth or in poverty, however you might measure that. We talked about the great boom in Christianity in Africa and Asia, where there arguably the greatest poverty in our world, as well as the fortitude of our Christian brothers and sisters in these same parts of the world, as well as the Middle East, where there is great persecution of Christians. We did not come to any definitive answer to the question, but it was a good conversation. Today's gospel presents a similar question for me: was it easier or harder for the leper to approach Jesus? Was it easier for the leper to approach Jesus, having really nothing to lose? He was already unclean physically and spiritually just as we heard prescribed in today's first reading from the Book of Leviticus. On the other hand, was it actually harder for the leper to approach, given the same situation of persecution, isolation, oppression, and then compounded by feelings of despair and rejection he most certainly was without hope and in despair. I can just imagine that he could be without any desire let alone the energy or courage to approach Jesus. But as we read in today's Gospel, we do know that he found the desire, energy, and courage and took the risk to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and ask to be healed. Jesus responded with great compassion, right? And then as we read further in today's gospel, the leper was transformed: not only physically healed and spiritually renewed, but also empowered and energized to go and share the good news of God's love, God's healing, God's mercy – so much so did he share this good news “that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” As I reflect on this story, I wonder why, in my relative wealth, knowledge, security, and freedom, do I still struggle with my faith, I doubt, and fail to trust fully in God's plan for me. I wonder if I would have more faith or less faith if I had less wealth or security or freedom? This is the question posed in the Book of Job and it will be a reoccurring them in Mark’s Gospel as we will read throughout the coming year of those who are foreigners, outcasts, and the persecuted and who still approach Jesus was great hope and faith and trust that they will be healed. Well here is what I do know and I believe: I believe that God made us he made us in his image and likeness, he made us good, he made us out of love to love and be loved. I know and believe that God entered into our humanity to show us his love and teach us how to love, especially by showing such great acts of mercy and compassion as we read in today's gospel. And it is the same God who willing takes incredible risks and suffers greatly out of love for us even dying on the cross for the leper, for you and for me! I also know and believe that God gave us his Spirit, who as we will stand together in just a couple of minutes and profess: is the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, out of love, for love. Our Eighth graders were confirmed with this gift of the Spirit last week; and our second graders experienced this gift of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (yesterday/today), as they prepare for their First Communion. And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist that we will receive today at this celebration that strengthens us and nourishes us to be and remain in this love relationship with God. [And it is the Holy Spirit who has helped sustain the marriages of those we celebrate today – those who celebrate a jubilee anniversary this calendar year; and as you will read in bulletin, many were married here – how wonderful.] And I believe it is the Holy Spirit who was working in the leper giving him the courage, the energy, the hope, the faith to approach Jesus and to ask him to heal him. It was also then the Holy Spirit that then empowered the healed-leper to go and proclaim the good news of his healing everywhere he could. It is that same spirit working in each one of us bringing us here, to bringing us back into relationship with God, despite whatever may keep us from trusting him fully, despite whatever may be keeping us from believing in him completely, despite whatever it may be keeping us from hoping in him. It is the Holy Spirit who help us to – as we just sung: turn to the Lord in our time of trouble and to be filled with the joy of salvation! AND it is the same Holy Spirit that gives us the grace – the gift - to be able to share the good news with others when we do experience God’s love. With all this in mind, I love what Saint Paul has to say to us in today’s second reading. He is reminding us that God gives us laws, they are important and serve as a kind of the guard rail in our lives. But simply following rules doesn't make us holy, it doesn't make us get to heaven. It is about our behavior especially our behavior towards God and others. Paul urges us to follow his example, which is really an imitation of Christ, so we must stay focused and not be distracted as we continue on our faith journey. And this means trusting in God, trusting his will and plan for us – and being open to the Holy Spirit to help us do this! So wherever you are in your faith journey, these readings remind us that: here is Jesus waiting for us, waiting to heal us, to restore us in relationship with him. Here is Jesus ready and willing to offer us the greatest joy, the greatest peace, the greatest happiness that we could ever imagine. Here is our God ready to give us, through his Holy Spirit, the help we need – the desire, the courage, the energy to approach Jesus. It for this reason we can have hope - hope despite our hardship or challenge – that we can approach Jesus and find peace and joy. Today's readings remind us and give us a reason to take a risk - just as the leper took a risk, we too must take a risk to move outside of our comfort zone, to move outside of our own challenges and hardships, to approach Jesus, to kneel before him, and to ask for his healing so that we might experience the joy and peace that awaits us now and eternally. May God bless you.