Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s Not About Us

Today's readings

One of my professors in seminary would often tell us that, because we had made a commitment to follow God's call, the devil would do everything possible to get us to change our mind. One of the devil's tricks would be to make us feel completely unworthy of the call, so much so that we'd abandon it. He cautioned that, the closer we got to ordination, the more intense that feeling would become. And boy, was he right! Weeks before the ordination, all of the sins of my life, along with all of my personal inadequacies and weaknesses, came to light before me in splendid fashion. I often felt so unworthy of answering the call that I wondered if I was making a huge mistake.

And the truth is, I am unworthy of the call. Looking around at my classmates, that was true of all of us. Some of us would be more willing to admit that than others, but it was really true. The truth is that none of us is ever really worthy of doing God's work, because none of us is perfect, and nobody is holy enough to stand in the place of God. Yet that was what we were called to do. Whether or not we had ever sinned, whatever our gifts or talents were, wherever we had failings or inadequacies, none of that mattered. Why? Because it's not about us.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been able to take a look at the various people who have been called to ministry throughout history. Last week, Ezekiel was told that whatever he did, his ministry would be mostly unsuccessful. Paul, the great teacher of our faith, was afflicted with a "thorn in the flesh" – whatever that was – and no amount of prayer could get it to go away. In today's first reading, Amos, who is told that he is not welcome to prophesy in Israel, confesses that he is nothing but a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamores – completely ill-qualified for the role of a prophet, but nonetheless called to be one. In today's Gospel, the Twelve are sent out on mission to do the works that Christ himself did, and they were only to take with them the knowledge of Jesus' teachings and their memory of what he had done among them. They were simple men, called from their simple lives, not one of them qualified for the role they were to play, with the possible exception of Judas, and we know what happened to him, don't we?

The point is, that it's not about who we are or who we know or how slick our presentation is. It's not about what we have in our bag of tricks, or how much stuff we have. It's not about how developed we may think our faith life is, or how much we've studied theology. Because it's not about us at all.

We can depend on this: the Word of the Lord will continue to be proclaimed. Prophesy will still be spoken. Repentance will be preached, and all will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Demons will be driven out. And many who are sick will be anointed with oil and cured in the name of the Lord. And there isn't anything we underqualified, ill-prepared, flawed human beings can do to stop it. God will still use us despite our failings, and often enough even despite our own attempts to stay out of it.

I know many people, who when asked if they would become involved in some ministry or another, would say, "Oh, no, I could never do that. I'm not qualified to do it." There are people who always feel that others could do the job better than they can, and so others should do it and they should stay out of it. But if we are to learn anything from the Scriptures today, we must hear that that kind of thinking is nothing but false humility. And false humility is absolutely not virtuous! Sometimes when others call us to do something, perhaps they see something in us that we can't see, or perhaps they may see God working in us in ways we don't fully appreciate. I'm not saying we have to say "yes" to everything we're asked to do, but I am saying that we must always prayerfully consider every opportunity, and then do what the Lord wants us to do.

When I was in seminary, one of the things I heard about some of the guys doing was acting as fire chaplains. They would be on call with the fire department and would help them reach out to people in the midst of emergencies and crises. That kind of thing scared the life out of me, and I thought "I'll never be able to do anything like that." Well, of course, a couple of years later, I was asked to become a fire chaplain. My first response was, "oh no, I could never do that." My friend who asked me to do it asked me to at least pray about it, which I agreed to do. And when I did pray about it, my answer from God was that of course I couldn't do it by myself, but it wasn't about me. So I became a fire chaplain despite my promise that I would never do so, and I worked with folks whose house was burning down, or whose children had committed suicide, or whose loved ones died in an accident. I ministered to the fire and paramedic personnel who had been through some difficult times. And I was always glad I was there, letting God use me to do things I could never do myself.

So in what ways have you been called? In today's Gospel, Jesus sends his chosen Twelve out on mission. They were chosen not for their spectacular abilities or any particular quality. But they were chosen, called and gifted to do the work of God in the world. So are we all. Just as the Twelve were sent out to preach repentance, dispel demons, and cure the sick, we too are called to do those very same things.

You may not think of yourself as a preacher. But you are prophetic and a preacher of repentance when you forgive a hurt or wrong, when you confess your sins and make necessary changes in your life, when you become a member of a 12-step group to deal with an addiction, or when you leave a lucrative job with a company whose business practices make you feel uncomfortable. You are a preacher of repentance when you correct poor behavior in your children rather than place the blame on the teacher or school. You are a preacher of repentance when you accept constructive criticism in a spirit of humility and pray for the grace to change your life. Preaching repentance very often does not involve words so much as actions, and we can all do that.

Who are you to drive out demons? How is that even possible? But I am here to tell you that volunteering as a catechist or a mentor in a school or a homework helper is a way to drive out the demons of ignorance. Going to a Protecting God's Children workshop so that children in our schools and religious educations programs will be safe is a way to drive out the demons of abuse. When you speak out to protect the environment, you help to drive out the demons of neglect and waste. Volunteering to be part of a pro-life group helps to drive out the demons of death and promote a culture of life, protecting the unborn and the aged and infirm. Working at a soup kitchen or food pantry drives out the demons of hunger and poverty. Helping at shelters for battered families drives out the demons of violence and isolation. The demons at work in our world are legion, and every one of us is called to drive them out, not like "The Exorcist," but more by our simple time and talent according to our gifts.

How is it possible for you to cure the sick? You anoint the sick every time you remember them in prayer, or visit them in the hospital or at home. You anoint the sick when you volunteer as a minister of care. You anoint the sick when you bring a casserole to provide dinner for a family who are so busy with sick relatives that they have little time to prepare a meal. You anoint the sick when you drive an elderly friend or neighbor to a doctor's appointment or to do the grocery shopping, or pick them up on the way to Mass. Heal
ing involves so much more than just making a disease or injury go away, and all of us can be a part of healing in so many everyday ways.

We absolutely must get from today's Scriptures that God calls everyday people to minister to others in everyday ways. If people are to know about God's Kingdom, we have to be the ones to proclaim it. If people are to reform their lives, we have to be the ones to model repentance. If people are to be released from their demons, we have to be the ones to drive them out. And if people are to be healed from their infirmities, it is all of us who have to reach out to them with the healing power of Christ. We who are called to live as disciples do not have the luxury of indulging ourselves in misplaced false humility. If we and our families and our communities are to grow in faith, hope and love, we have to be the ones to show the way and encourage as many people as possible to walk in that way.

Saint Paul makes our vocation very clear in today's second reading:

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.

It's not about us. We who first hoped in Christ exist for the praise of his glory. Let it be then that we in the everyday-ness of our lives would have the courage to preach repentance, drive out demons and heal the sick.

Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today's readings | Saint of the Day

Saint Bonaventure was born in central Italy in 1221. As a boy, he was cured of a serious illness through the prayers of St. Francis. St. Francis was an inspiration to Bonaventure and because of that, Bonaventure entered the Franciscan order and later became a professor of theology at the university in Paris. He later became Minister General of the Franciscan order was made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. He died at the Council of Lyons in 1274.

Bonaventure was a Franciscan, theologian, and doctor of the Church; a learned and holy man. In fact, he was known for his ability to unite theology and spirituality. He was a great mystic while remaining an active teacher and preacher, all of which shows the best of the Franciscan order.

Today's Gospel says that no disciple is above his teacher. Bonaventure was ever mindful of this, and took great inspiration from his teacher, St. Francis. The inspiration of Francis was what led him to study philosophy and theology, and to enter the Franciscan order. In Bonaventure's writings, we learn that he had many other teachers as well. This comes from his writing, Journey of the Mind to God:

Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strengthy of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!

So Bonaventure had many teachers: St. Francis, St. Philip, St. Paul, and even King David the Psalmist. And in his pursuit of study and holiness he strove to become as much like them as he could. The example we receive from him is to find who our teachers may be. Who is it who has instructed us in wisdom and holiness? Who has led us closer to Christ? Who has taught us to pray in our bad times as well as our good times? These people have been teachers to us. They may be parents, loved ones, teachers, friends, co-workers, priests, deacons, or catechists. Whoever they were, Bonaventure would have us become like them, so that others might grow in the ways that we have and become God's holy people.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

Today’s Readings | Saint of the Day

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin woman. Her parents died in a smallpox epidemic – which left Kateri herself disfigured and half blind – when she was four years old. She went to live with her uncle who succeeded her own father as chief of the clan. Her uncle hated the missionaries who, because of the Mohawks’ treaty with France, were required to be present in the region. Kateri, however, was moved by their words. She refused to marry a Mohawk brave, and at age 19, was baptized on Easter Sunday.

Her baptism meant that she would be treated forever as a slave. Since she refused to work on Sundays, she was not given anything to eat on those days. She eventually took a 200 mile walking journey to the area of Montreal, and there grew in holiness under the direction of some Christian women in the area. At age 23, she took a vow of virginity.

Kateri’s life was one of extreme penance and fasting. This she took upon herself as a penance for the eventual conversion of her nation. Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”

Kateri knew what it was like to be sent out like a sheep in the midst of wolves, as today’s Gospel says. She lived a very courageously Christian life in the midst of a culture quite hostile to our religion and way of life. The witness of her life, a life of virginity, penance and poverty, inspired many who knew her at the time, and continues to inspire us today. She never worried about what words to speak, because her life spoke volumes, and all of that was given her by the Holy Spirit.

We too are called to speak through our lives and our lips in witness to the Gospel. Let us all pray for the grace to speak courageously, in our words and actions, and to rely on God to give us what we need to speak in every situation.

Monday of the 14th Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

The Lord is gracious and merciful.

Recently, I was reading a commentary on preaching that encouraged preachers to preach once in a while on other readings beside the Gospel. The Gospel's almost always the most obvious choice, and certainly contains the crux of the message in the Liturgy of the Word. But wonderful gems can be discovered if we dig a little deeper into the other readings. So today, I would like to reflect on the responsorial psalm, often sung, often recited, but largely forgotten. I'm a singer, so the psalm tends to appeal to me, and you will often hear me preach at least a short portion of my homily about the psalm, quite often at the very end. Today, I'd like to take a look at the psalm because I think it provides a beautiful link between the first reading and the Gospel.

The Lord is gracious and merciful.

These are words that are easy for us to pray when things are going well, but maybe not so much when we're going through rough times. At first glance today, it seems like the psalmist is going through some very good times indeed. But we have no way of knowing that. The only key to the great hymn of praise the psalmist is singing is that he is reflecting on the wonder of creation and the mighty deeds God does in the world. Indeed, the psalmist sees wonders not just in his own place but everywhere. He says, "The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. Every part of creation has been blessed by God's goodness. Because of this, God is to be praised not just now, but "forever and ever" and by "generation after generation."

This fits in very nicely with Hosea's prophecy. Preaching to the Israelites in exile, he proclaims that God will change the relationship between Israel and the Lord, much as one would change the relationship with a fiancé when the two are married. God will give Israel the ability to be faithful to God, and for His part, God will remember His faithfulness forever. God's great mercy and compassion are seen in the Gospel reading, which is Matthew's version of the story we had from Mark a week ago Sunday. Jesus rewards the faithfulness of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage with miraculous healings. Key to all of these wonderful events, in all three readings, is that God who has created us is committed to re-creating us in His love and faithfulness.

So as we approach the Eucharist today and reflect on all the mighty and wonderful things God does in our midst, may we too sing the psalmist's song. May we all praise God's name forever and ever, and proclaim his might to generation after generation.

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Our Eyes are Fixed Intently on the Lord

Today's readings 

The story goes that one day, St. Theresa of Avila was wheeling a cart across a bridge over the river. At one point along the bridge's passage, a wheel of the cart got stuck in the planks, and St. Theresa had to wrestle the cart to get going again. In the struggle, the cart tipped over, and its entire contents spilled out and into the river. As she looked at all her stuff floating down the river, she said, "Well, God, if this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them!"

Many of us, I would venture to guess, have had experiences in our own lives where it seemed like the contents of our carts were floating down the river. Certainly that must have been how Ezekiel felt in today's first reading. To be told, in no uncertain terms, at the outset of your life's work, that your work will be frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful might be a little too much reality all at once. You'll never see that reading quoted on vocation posters or seminary websites!

Jesus' experience in the Gospel reading was much the same. The people who knew him first and knew him best, people from his own home town, totally misunderstood who he was and what his ministry was sent to accomplish. These people saw the miracles he worked elsewhere and heard the words he preached, but were so offended by it that their lack of faith stifled his ability to do anything great in their midst, other than to cure a few sick people.

Today's readings are filled with contrasts as we read them. Let's first back up a bit – all the way to last week. Do you remember last week's Gospel reading? The faith of Jairus and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage made possible two wonderful, miraculous healings. Jairus's daughter was literally resuscitated from death because Jairus had faith enough to come to Jesus in humility. The woman with the hemorrhage was cured because she had just enough faith and courage to reach out and touch Jesus' garment. Last week we were impressed with faith that overcame long illness and even death.

Today's Gospel, coming right on the heels of that celebration of faith and healing, is the complete opposite. Where last week there was faith, this week there is rejection. Where last week there was courage, this week there is fear and offense. Where last week healing abounded, this week there is hardly any mighty deed to be found. What's going on here?

In Jesus' time, there was a clear delineation of one's class based on where one's family fit into the social structure. To honor one's family, a person worked hard, within the parameters of his or her family's place, and didn't rock the boat. Where striving to better ourselves is a hallmark of the American ethic, in that time it was scandalous to try to rise above one's place in the social structure. It just wasn't done. So this is the basis at which the people of Jesus' home town took offense at him. They knew he was a carpenter, they knew his mother and relatives. His actions and words seemed to put him above all that, and for them, that was just intolerable. That explains their reaction, but of course, it doesn't make it a good reaction, does it?

Another huge contrast in today's readings is the faith of St. Paul over against the lack of faith of Jesus' neighbors in the Gospel. In today's second reading, St. Paul has plenty of reason for a lack of faith: a thorn in the flesh – whatever that was for him – afflicted him and would not go away. In addition, he put up with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints. And yet, in all of this he did not waver in his faith: he put up with it all for the sake of Christ, proclaiming that when he was weak, it was then that he was strong. If Jesus' neighbors had just a little of that kind of faith, think of the many wonders that would have been accomplished in their midst!

The contrasts we have looked at in these readings show the range of response to the presence of a prophet in one's community. Everywhere Jesus went, his prophecy was met with wonder and awe – except in his own community, that is. In every other place, people came to him in faith and were healed of their illnesses and freed from their sins. In his own place, they were scandalized by him and wanted nothing whatever to do with him. That was just the kind of reaction that Ezekiel was promised in today's first reading. The people to whom he was being sent were "hard of face and obstinate of heart" but Ezekiel was sent to preach to them anyway, so that whether they heeded or resisted, they would nonetheless know that "a prophet has been among them."

The question for us, then, is how we will respond to the prophetic voices in our own lives? When we hear our parents, our elders, our Church or whoever it may be calling us to reform our lives, what will be our reaction? Will we become hard of face and obstinate of heart? Will we take offense at those who dare to speak to us, because we know who they are and where they came from? Or will we, like St. Paul, boast of our weaknesses and be content with all our afflictions, knowing that in all of that, the power of Christ will take hold of us and God will be glorified?

Because we all of us have days where our cart tips over and our stuff ends up floating down the river, don't we? St. Theresa could get away with taking God to task for that because her faith was unquestioning and her trust in God was central to her life. But what about us? Will we look at our stuff floating down the river and give it all up and turn away from the voices of those who strive to help us make sense of it all? Or will we hear the Word of the Lord speaking through the hard times and the crisis and the pain and respond in faith, knowing that God longs to collect the contents of our carts and restore them to us, sending us on our way to continue the journey over the bridge?

We have to see that what God is calling us to here today is a faithful response, and not necessarily a wildly successful one. Sure, we are going to have resistance to our best efforts. Yes, life will bring its share of hardships and obstacles. Some days we may be victorious over pain and evil and sin, and some days they may get the best of us. We may pray over and over and over again that God would deliver us from our thorns in the flesh, and we may get discouraged at the lack of results. But our response must always be a response of faith, letting God be God, and trusting in God for our salvation.

We've all heard the famous serenity prayer, written by the protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

But maybe you haven't heard the rest of that prayer. It goes like this:

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

We are a people drenched with the imperfections of the world, and yet called to a resilient faith. The psalmist today puts it well and sums up our experience of life by saying that we are "more than sated with contempt … with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud." But even suffering all of that, that same psalmist makes a case for faith and models what should be our response to it all: "Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy."

Friday of the 13th Week of Ordinary Time

Thinking we have it all together and every issue taken care of can be a very dangerous thing. In my days in music ministry, I had many rather humbling moments as a cantor. Whenever I thought I knew the psalm well enough, God would use that occasion to show me, in front of everyone, that I didn’t. Needless to say, my leading of prayer on those occasions wasn’t very praiseworthy.

But, sometimes I would struggle with a psalm. On those occasions, I would typically work pretty hard on it, practicing it and praying it over and over. Even if it wouldn’t get to the point where it was perfect, I would often say, “Okay, God, I’ve done the best I can, just help me to proclaim your Word as you would have me do it.” And on those occasions, I would almost always be surprised at how wonderful the psalm would sound coming out of my mouth.

The difference between these two experiences, of course, was the one in whom I trusted to give voice to the song. When I thought I had it together and didn’t need to work very hard on it, I trusted in my own talents and knowledge, which was so subject to my own frailty. But when I would work hard on a psalm and eventually just give it up to God, I was trusting in the one in whom there is no frailty at all.

Whether it’s in the raising of families or in our jobs or in the relationships we have with neighbors and friends, we can all be subject to the kind of self-righteous overconfidence that afflicted the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, and even the so-called worshippers that Amos was addressing in today’s first reading. Honesty about who we are is critical to authentic worship.

God does not expect us all to be perfect, because he made us and knows us. He sent his Son among us to call not the righteous, but sinners. We will often stumble and fall into sin in the practice or malpractice of our spiritual lives, but on those occasions, Jesus reaches out to us and longs to dine among us. That’s what brings us here today. Though we are all of us far from perfectly righteous, we are all of us gathered together and can share the meal with our Lord and Master who is Righteousness itself. May we all do more to resemble the tax collectors and sinners who responded to Jesus’ invitation than the Pharisees who preferred to eat with their own kind.

Thursday of the 13th Week of Ordinary Time

One of the things that used to irritate me about my parents when I was growing up is that they always knew, often better than I did, what was not only best for me, but would really make me happy. Of course, now I love that about them, but when I was young it always made me crazy. They would tell me that I should join a certain group or try a certain activity and I never wanted to, but when I ultimately did it, I of course would enjoy it thoroughly. They were right more often than I would have admitted. My parents have been wonderful prophetic voices in my life.

Amazon had Amos as his prophetic voice. And of course, much like me, he didn’t want to hear that prophetic voice. Amos makes it clear that he is not speaking on his own, or even because he wanted to. If it were up to him, he’d go back to being a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. But he knows that the Lord was using him to speak to Amazon, and he had no intention of backing down. And, as it turned out, Amos was absolutely right about what he told Amazon. Too bad Amazon didn’t appreciate his prophetic voice as much as I did my parents.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus too comes across as a prophetic voice. He could have cured the paralytic with one touch and without much fanfare. But that wasn’t what he was there to do. He was there to preach forgiveness of sins by the way he healed the paralyzed person (by the way, we don’t know by the language used here whether the person was a man or a woman, and the person’s name is not mentioned). Jesus used that simple situation of healing to be a prophetic voice in the world, saying to everyone present that real healing only comes about through the forgiveness of sins.

That unnamed, gender-unspecified paralyzed person could be you or me today, or someone we’ll meet today. Who among us is not paralyzed by sin in some way? To whatever extent we are the ones in need of healing, may we all hear the prophetic voice of Jesus saying to us: “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Meaning of Suffering

Today's readings 

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

I had finally gotten around to writing out some Christmas cards a few days before that great feast last year. I was still at school at Mundelein, and we didn't get out for Christmas break for a day or two. We had been doing the kinds of things you do before Christmas: the guys on my floor had gone out with the Rector for pizza. There was a little snow falling, which meant that there were some accidents here and there and bad traffic, but we all got back to the seminary safe.

Well, my heart wasn't really in the writing out of the Christmas cards – I'm just terrible at that. But the alternative was studying for a test, and well, my heart wasn't in that either. Besides, the test was after Christmas break, so it could wait. I was about halfway through the address book, I think, when I got a page from the fire department I worked for. Usually the pages didn't apply to us, and I wasn't on call that night, but this one got my attention: Chaplains needed for fatal accident involving a child.

Of course, all the emotions you'd think someone would experience hearing that went through me. I called my friend who was on call that night, and he was getting information from the department and said he'd call me back. He called a couple of minutes later and said if I wanted to come along, he could probably use the help. The family had their own clergy with them, so they didn't need us; we waited at the station for our people to come back so we could talk to them. Eventually, we were joined by another of our chaplains, which turned out to be a good thing.

The call was handled by our department and another one nearby. The other department could not reach their chaplains, so I went with one of my friends to the other station. We waited for their guys to come back, and after they had emptied their ambulance, we were able to sit down and talk with them. In all my time as a fire chaplain, I never had a more significant conversation. These guys had been through a terrible situation, trying to save the life of a child, and the child had died on the way to the hospital. We talked for over two hours as they told us all the details and all of the emotions they were feeling. Fire and medic personnel almost never get to the point of freely sharing their emotions, so this was a pretty awesome talk.

One of the men was Catholic and he was the one who had the task of extracting the child from the car. His enduring question was, why did this innocent child have to suffer and die? There was no answer for that question, but my fellow chaplain was able to give some meaning to it all when he pointed out that the child died in front of Marytown, a Franciscan monastery near our seminary that provides 24 hour exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. He pointed out that he died near the physical manifestation of Christ's own body, and that Jesus was always letting the children come to him.

Today's readings bring this whole question back for me in such a poignant way. Why do people have to suffer? Why do good people and innocent children suffer? Why do people have to die? These are ever-present questions for us, I think, and this is where the rubber meets the road as far as our faith goes. Some people take great comfort in their faith when they have to deal with suffering. Some people even find their faith as they work through the pain of it all. And some people lose their faith, asking how God could let them suffer, or let a loved one suffer, if God loves them so much.

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the earth are wholesome…

These words from today's first reading may bring up more questions than they answer for us. If God did not make death and if he made everything to have being and wholesome life, why does that plan go so often awry? Why are the living destroyed? Why is our world so often far less than wholesome? The Wisdom writer gives us a hint at an answer:

But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.

The author is not saying that the person experiencing suffering and death did something to deserve it, and that's why they're suffering. That was, actually, a long-held belief in Jewish theology. But this reading represents a break from that kind of thought. The author is merely acknowledging that there is evil in the world, and that evil is the root of sin, suffering and death. All you have to do is flip on the evening news to know that's true.

But suffering never seems to make sense for us. We may never get the answers to all our questions this side of the kingdom of God. Ask the woman with the hemorrhage in today's Gospel reading. She put up with her condition for twelve years – twelve years! In that society, such a condition made her ritually unclean, and so she could not take any part in the ritual or social life of the community. How awful that must have been for her. And to make matters worse, she was treated by doctors who not only did not cure her, but also took advantage of her, leaving her penniless.

How many of us can identify with that woman? How many of us are here today, suffering from some illness that never seems to get better, or going through a family crisis that never seems to go away, or living with depression that seems to have no end? How many of us have worked long and hard on problems in our life or with our health with little success? How many of us have been left bankrupt – spiritually or emotionally, at least – in our attempts to put an end to our pain?

Perhaps if we identify with the woman with the hemorrhage, we can also imitate her. In a great act of faith, she reached out to Christ, who not only cured her illness, but freed her of her social stigma and ritual impurity. Her touch of faith – which was a totally taboo thing for her to do, because it would have made Jesus ritually impure if he chose to acknowledge that – that touch of faith was rewarded with a new life.

That can be hard for us to hear, when we don't really have that same opportunity. We can't see Jesus walking by and reach out and touch his robe. And maybe all of our attempts to reach out to him seem to have gone unrewarded. I'm not going to tell you that one act of faith will make all of your problems go away.

But what I will say is this: as I have walked with people who have suffered, those who have reached out to Jesus in faith have not gone unrewarded. Maybe their suffering continued in some way, but in Christ they found the strength to walk through it with dignity and peace. Maybe Jesus won't always stop the bleeding of our hurts and inadequacies and woundedness. But through his own blood, he will always redeem us. We who are disciples need to make those acts of faith if we are to live what we believe.

We come to the Eucharist today with our lives in various stages of grace and various stages of disrepair. At the Table of the Lord, we offer our lives and our suffering and our pain. We bring our faith, wherever we are on the journey, and reach out in that faith to touch the body of our Lord. We approach the Cup of Life, and whatever emptiness is in us is filled up with grace and healing love, poured out in the blood of Christ. As we go forth to love and serve the Lord this day, all of our problems may very well remain unsolved. Our suffering and pain may very well be with us still. But in our faith, perhaps they can be transformed, or at least maybe we can be transformed so that we can move through that suffering and pain with dignity and peace. And as we go forth, may we hear our Lord saying to us the same words he said
to the woman with the hemorrhage: go in peace, your faith has saved you.

Ss. Peter & Paul: Who do you say that I am?

 "Who do you say that I am?"

Many have reflected on the importance of this question both for the disciples, and for ourselves. We might do well to think about it ourselves on occasion. But as I was preparing for today's Liturgy, an aspect of that question stood out in a way that it hasn't before.

Certainly, it's an important question, and it called for a statement of faith from Peter. His faith was well-placed and well-articulated. So well, in fact, that Jesus gave Peter the all-important keys to the kingdom, and the power to bind and loose sins. This power has been appropriated to the Church through apostolic succession. So when you receive absolution in sacramental confession, it is because of Peter's faith that you receive it. That's a beautiful thing, I think, because it connects us to Jesus through the apostles as handed down through the Church.

But here's the thing that stood out for me last night: it wasn't so much what Peter and the apostles said about who Jesus was that constituted their statement of faith, and their answer to Jesus' question. The answer really came from the way they lived their lives.

Peter was, as Scripture shows us, an impulsive man. He often said and did the wrong thing, but just as often said and did the right thing. One minute he was walking on water, the next minute he was overcome by the wind and waves. Today he's professing his faith in Jesus, but a few verses later and Jesus is telling him to get behind him. He's nowhere to be found at the Cross, having denied his Master three times, but later professes his love for Jesus and accepts the responsibility to feed his sheep. But though it all, he was a man of conversion, and finally gave his life for Christ, suffering martyrdom under Nero in about the year 64.

Paul, as we know, was a Jew, and a strict one. He went so far as to persecute Christians for their faith, and even took part in the martyrdom of St. Stephen. But Paul, too, was a man of conversion and completely changed his life on the way to Damascus, becoming a great apostle, theologian, and missionary. He, too, was martyred, ending his life in Rome.

Both of these great apostles answered the question "Who do you say that I am?" by living lives of conversion, following Christ, and laying down their lives for Christ. They are examples to all of us, who also are asked to answer the question "Who do you say that I am?" So how have we been answering that question? What answer do our lives give?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

There’s a commercial I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks that I like. It shows little vignettes of people having near miss accidents, who are saved from those accidents by other people. So a woman on the way out of a restaurant moves a coffee cup on the table of a man whose elbow might knock it over at any minute. A man stops to yell to alert a truck parking that it’s about to run into a motorcycle. There’s a whole bunch of them showing people doing little things to help other people. The announcer says something like “when it’s people doing these things, we call it responsibility.”

Have you seen that commercial? I like it, but I think they have the premise wrong. Because I think that when it’s people doing things like that, we ought to call it love. Sure, it’s not the same kind of love that you might have for a spouse or family member or even a friend, but it’s the kind of love that helps us go outside ourselves and work for the good of others.

Today, we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus’ love for us knows know bounds. In today’s Gospel, we see that not even death could limit his love for us. As he hung dying upon the cross, his love for us never wavered. And even after his death, the soldier’s lance helped blood and water to pour from his side. The blood that poured forth from Jesus’ side is the same blood we will be able to partake in this morning in the Eucharist. A blood that nourishes and strengthens us. A blood that cleanses us from our sins. The water is the same water you dipped your hand into on the way in today: the waters of baptism. That water washes our sins away and brings us into the body of the Church. The blood that poured forth from Jesus’ side as he hung on the cross continues to make his love present to us in the Church.

One more way that the love of Jesus is made present in the Church is through you and me. We have to, as one of my professors used to tell us, love what Jesus loved as he hung on the cross. And that means that we are called to love each person we come in contact with, whether it’s our own friends or family members, or even a complete stranger. When we love each person in little or small ways, then some measure of the love that Jesus had on the cross for that person, the love which poured forth from his Sacred Heart, is poured forth upon our world yet again. The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus isn’t meant just for us to hoard: we are meant to share it, so that that love may grow and abound and spread through all the world.

May the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus draw you in today and be in your heart and in all that you do.