4th S. 2022: Others too

Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 30, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of this homily can be viewed by clicking here soon, and can be heard by clicking here soon.

The Alleluia today is “The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives.” That is our Lord’s message and also his mission. Glad tidings aren’t so bad. Liberty also sounds pretty sweet. I think the problem for me is…well, I’m not poor, and to be honest, I don’t mind saying that I live in the la’and of the freeee…and the hoo’ome of the braaave! At times I wonder, did Jesus come for me at all. 

I think we could certainly have a discussion about what freedom really looks like, and how I’m poor in so many areas of my life. When it comes to patience, I’m nearly bankrupt. And with being an administrator at school with Omicron on the loose, I don’t have a dime to my name if we’re talking about peace. Don’t even get me started about how I’m a slave to chocolate, and if I’m being honest, all things sugary. But spiritual freedom and spiritual poverty are not what I’m talking about today. Today I’m talking about literal poverty, and actual slavery.

A friend of mine was fond of saying, “The Gospel exists to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” That was originally said of newspapers, but I think it’s true of the Gospel as well. Today’s readings remind us of two very important truths: in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, before we were even formed in the womb, our God knew us and loved us. We are the apple of God’s eye, and that’s beautiful. And that’s the first important truth. And from the Gospel comes the second truth, namely, we’re not the only apple in God’s eye. 

Jesus was welcomed in the synagogue of his youth, and they loved him, until he told them a very uncomfortable truth–they’re not the only person that God loves. “Yes, I’m afraid God loves gentiles too.” It wasn’t that the Jews were bad, it was that Jesus made others equal to them in God’s love–and that’s a hard pill for some people to swallow, both then and now. The Jews of Jesus’ day, members of his own community, certainly people that had known him from his youth, were enraged and tried to kill him all because he said something that is a bit hard for us to understand today. Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel when a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 

We don’t recognize the insult embedded in Jesus’ remarks today, but it was clearly an insult to God’s people then. There were widows in Israel–God’s home, but the great prophet didn’t go to them. Instead he brought God’s food, nourishment, and hope to a widow in Sidon–present day Lebanon–not even one of God’s “special people,” his chosen ones. And the second example that Jesus threw in their face, was a leper. There were lepers in Israel–but God didn’t cleanse them, Elisha went instead to Naaman the Syrian. Also a gentile, and worse, and enemy of God’s people–that’s embarrassing. And that’s our second truth–God loves all his children–even those that call him by another name, or those that don’t know his name at all. 

It reminds me a bit of how hard it is for kindergartners when they first arrive at school. They are the apple of mom and dad’s eye, everyone at home at their beck and call; kings and queens of the castle–until they’re in a classroom with twenty five other kings and queens! All of a sudden, they’re not so special anymore. They have to wait their turn and learn to share…the world doesn’t revolve around them…shocking. And I think that’s a message for us too. God loves me, but it’s also true that God loves others too. The Gospel today afflicts me. It reminds me that if I’m not poor and if I am free, maybe I could give a little more, and work to end child labor, human trafficking, and economic slavery. I have been afforded great privilege and have been abundantly blessed. God loves me, and I know it, but I wonder if there is enough of God’s love in me to cause me to help someone else whom God also loves…maybe even just as much?

3rd S. 2022: Free People

Today’s homily is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 23, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of this homily can be viewed by clicking here soon, and can be heard by clicking here soon.

The Prophet Isaiah lived around 750 years before Jesus, and he witnessed the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, taken captive by the Assyrians under Salmanaser. Isaiah saw free people taken away in chains, stripped of their dignity, of their voice, of their vision, but not of their hope. Isaiah told the people that God would send a redeemer. He promised that God would sent his holy one, anoint him, and that he would free God’s people. This is the quote we heard Jesus proclaim in the Synagogue in Nazareth. For 750 years Israel remained a conquered people–first under the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and the Persians, Greeks, and finally the Romans. For 750 years God’s people were not free to follow God’s laws as was prescribed by Moses, had no voice in the public square, and could not worship their God as they wanted. 

Jesus stood before the assembly and said, “This is the day you’ve all been waiting for. Your savior is here!” And all throughout the Gospels Jesus does just what Isaiah said he would do–he cured the blind and healed people, liberating them from pain and returning them to the fold. He forgave their sins, brought them back to life, restored their dignity, and filled them with hope. This is what our Lord does–he heals and restores so that we are once again able to fulfill our mission. A person enslaved has no mission. A blind person is limited. A mute person has no voice. But a free person, fully alive, fully aware, fully healed, that is a person who can proclaim the kingdom and advance the kingdom of God. We have been freed to live out command one and only command…to love. We have been set free for this purpose–to love. And if we remain free, we can.

The evil one wants to rob us of our freedom, wants to cripple our ability to love, and he does that with his greatest tool–selfishness. Selfishness is the gross exaggeration of the desire for self preservation. It turns love inward. Selfishness says, “me first,” or “I don’t think there’s enough for you.” You see love is self-less. Love says, “Of course you can have some, I don’t have extra, but I’ve got some.” Love sacrifices and suffers for the good of others–something every parent knows very well. You might remember that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1COR13:4-8)

When we are slaves of the devil we do not love. When we are slaves we are selfish and hurtful and unkind toward others. This is what Christian freedom means. Christian freedom is not the freedom to do whatever I want, it is the freedom to do what I ought. It is the freedom to follow our conscience, where we hear the voice of God that echoes in our depths; to do this and not that. But how many times a day do we ignore God’s voice? How many times are we enslaved by selfishness and greed? How many times do we look out for our interests, our family’s interests, or our country’s interests over and above the interest of others? God loves all people equally—all are his creation. To disregard or think ill of others is to dishonor the Creator. From the Catechism, “One cannot honor another person without blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all people, His creatures.” (2069)

It’s no wonder that 1COR13 which speaks of love, comes immediate after our 2nd reading today 1COR12 that speaks for the value and dignity of every person. As different as we might be–every one of us is a valuable member of God’s body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” How greatly have countries, communities, even churches and those who attend them forgotten such a basic principle. Jesus came to heal us, make us one whole body–and we keep severing limbs. We refuse to love. We say, because you do not look like me, act like me, think like me, vote like me, live like me, worship like me–you are of no value. We are free. We can choose to love.

2nd S. 2022: The Ordinary Times

Today’s homily is for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 16, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of this homily can be viewed by clicking here, and can be heard by clicking here.

Today marks the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time. Not Lent or Advent, not Easter or Christmas—ordinary time. Ordinary time is in fact a season in our church’s calendar. It has its own color, green. When you hear ordinary time what thoughts or images come to mind? Be honest now…is there anyone else out there who thinks of vanilla ice cream? Just plain ‘ol vanilla. We can sometimes think of ordinary as plain, hum-drum, boring, or uneventful, but I don’t think this is the way to approach ordinary time. 

People and families often seek extraordinary times, expensive times, lavish times, and those are often very good times–memorable times–social media times. And many of us experience God most profoundly in these extra-ordinary times, don’t we? Many Christians seek or strive after the extraordinary as though God is only to be found in the extraordinary (the mountain top)—and God is there—but not only there. 

Ever notice that we praise God in extraordinarily positive times? We plead with God in extraordinarily negative times, but we can sometimes forget about God altogether in the ordinary times. And that’s tragic because when we think about your lives—isn’t most of it ordinary time? We get up, work out, go to work or school, come home, watch some tv and go to bed. That’s my ordinary day. That’s probably 99 percent of our life. What a loss not to find God in that time. We need to find God in the ordinary times. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus performs his first miracle at the wedding at Cana–an ordinary event in our lives, for sure. We don’t know who it was, just that Our Lord was among the ordinary guests invited to the wedding, and then the wine ran out. No bueno. Jesus had the waiters fill the ordinary jars with ordinary water, and right in the midst of the ordinary, Jesus does the extraordinary by changing water into wine, averting a party disaster.

That’s how our Lord works in the ordinary moments of our lives—and we would be wise to look for him there. Last week we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, only a week before that Jesus was in a manger in Bethlehem. Thirty years of ordinary life passed from Jesus’ birth to the wedding at Cana—ordinary time. Not boring time or uneventful time–it was discipline time, focus time, prayer time, preparation time—it was Jesus’ off season. 

We need ordinary time. Ordinary time is when we pray, deepen our faith, and reflect on what mission our Lord might have in store for us. We want to be prepared for the difficulties in the road ahead. We focus, we pray, we discern not only the presence of God in our life, but God’s calling to us, and the mission for which God is preparing us. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” To some the expression of wisdom to another knowledge, faith, healing, deeds, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues. It is in ordinary time that we pray, walk with God, and learn to use these gifts. Are we? 

I remember watching the cartoon, The Incredibles, and the children had wonderful gifts, but were discouraged from using them so they wouldn’t stand out—but when it came time to use them in extra-ordinary times they didn’t know how. This cannot be us. We are incredible, and we have wonderful gifts, and we are called to use them, like our Lord, to make the ordinary extraordinary. I look forward to ordinary time! Extraordinary times are exhausting—aren’t we ready to get back to ordinary time? I mean, can I get a witness? I’m exhausted. The Lord knows what we need, right when we need it. 

I just read that Scientists around the world are saying that with the Omicron variant of COVID, milder symptoms, more like a cold or the common flu—we are heading back to ordinary times. I can’t wait for ordinary time. Ordinary time is a gift. It’s time to heal and recover. Thank God for it. Be rejuvenated in it. Find your passion and purpose in it. Find God in it—extraordinary times are just around the corner, it’s time to grow close to God, pray, discern our gifts, and prepare. Vanilla is good.