Sunday, August 26, 2018

HOMILY 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle B August 26, 2018

HOMILY   21st Sunday of Ordinary Time  Cycle B   August 26, 2018

"For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father."
          Some are privileged to believe.   To some the Father grants the great privilege of believing in Jesus.  But others, for reasons known only to God, perhaps are not called to believe.   This may seem unfair, but we know God is loving, and that God’s ways are not our ways.
          This does not mean that people who do not believe are bad people.  It does not mean that they are not saved.  It does not mean that God doesn’t love them, or love them less.  But the fact is some people do not believe, and this can be either because they have refused the gift, or they never received it.  At least not yet.   This is a great mystery. 
          In chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the criterion of judgement, and what is required to be saved.  I was hungry and you fed me, or you didn’t.  I was naked and you clothed me, or you didn’t.   I was a stranger and you welcomed me, or you built a wall instead.  I was sick or in prison, and you visited me, or didn’t.  The criteria for judgement are quite simple and clear.  
          The judgement is NOT about what denomination you belonged to.  Nor what religion, or any at all.  Not what prayers you prayed, what worship you participated in, what creed and doctrine you professed, what theology you favored.   It is all about how you treat others.  That – according to Jesus – is the standard for judgement. 
          So those who do not believe in Jesus, but still feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, help those in distress, will be saved.   
Jesus teaches us that.  As St Augustine, the one from Hippo - not our St. Augustin of Canterbury - said long ago, “The church has those that God does not, and God has those that the church does not.” 
          I believe that there will be many surprises on the day of judgement.  Many who did not know Jesus, did not believe in Jesus, but lived lives of compassion, service, integrity and love, will still be saved.
          Nonetheless, to believe in Jesus is a very great privilege.  I repeat, to believe in Jesus is a very great privilege.  We are called to believe by the Father, not because we are such upstanding and wonderful people, and not even primarily for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole world.            The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Church - the body of those who believe in Jesus - is called to be a Sacrament of the salvation of the whole world.   A sacrament is a sign that effects and makes real the reality it symbolizes.   We are called to symbolize the salvation of the whole world, the salvation won for us by Jesus.  And by symbolizing it, we help to make it happen.  We therefore have a responsibility to symbolize God’s Kingdom on earth and to do it well.
          The grace, the gift, we have received to be able to believe in Jesus, granted to us by the Father, is a truly wonderful privilege.  Again, it is not given to us because we are so holy and good and deserving, but rather because the Father has granted it.  So, Why us?  I don’t know. 
          But the fact remains that we are called to proclaim the love of God shown forth in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, in all that we say and do and are.  We are, in fact, to be apostles.  And that is a wonderful privilege.   It is a grace.
               Two comments on this.  First of all, this great gift of faith is not an easy one.  It can be tremendously comforting.  It can sustain us and give us great strength.  But it can also be difficult, and hard to live out.  We can, and likely will, face hostility and persecution. 
          Living a life of faith is a struggle.  We have to accept the gift of faith, interiorize it, make it a core part of ourselves, not just wear it on our sleeves, and that is work.  Many times we are like the anguished parent of the sick child in the Gospel who cries, “I believe.  Help my unbelief”.  We waver between belief and unbelief.  Faith remains a struggle. 
          Many are struggling now with the horrific revelations about clerical sexual abuse in Pennsylvania over the last seven decades.  As bad as the actual crimes of abuse, is the crime of cover up perpetrated by the Bishops.  It is devastating.  It challenges our faith.  Not only in the particular Bishops involved, but the whole hierarchy and the entire structure of the Church, and even the action of God in the world.  It is a painful and difficult reality to square with our faith.  And I don’t have any easy answer.
          Conversely, as the gift of faith is not an easy one, so also the lack of faith in those we love and care about is also a difficult burden.   Especially when parents have struggled to raise their children in the faith, to drag them to church every Sunday, sacrificed to send them to Catholic school and religious education, tried to model for them a religious life, and yet the child grows up to have no interest in religion.  They may be honest, generous, really good people, and have no hostility towards faith, but also have no interest in religion.   It just does nothing for them, and it is a great sorrow for the parents for whom religion and faith, and a relationship with Jesus, have been such central parts of their identity and their satisfaction.

And Jesus said,
"For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”  That remains fully true today.

As a result of this, many of Jesus’ disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.     Many today no longer go to church.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, and now today to us, ”Do you also want to leave?"

May we be open to the Holy Spirit leading us, as the Spirit lead Simon Peter, and who answered Jesus, "Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

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