The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings today, I think, are very poignant and to the point.  As a pastor, I see a lot of suffering, and it breaks my heart when my parishioners are going through hard times.  Whether those hard times are brought about by death or sickness, or by relationship problems, or by poverty or job circumstances, or whatever it is, those hard times can be a real test of faith. The very first words of today’s Liturgy of the Word reach out and grab us: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”  And perhaps we already knew that.  Perhaps we know that God does not intend our death or our suffering, but the really hard thing for us is that he permits it.  Why is that?  Why would God permit his beloved ones to suffer so much here on earth? This is one of those sticky questions that sometimes make people doubt their faith.

When I was in seminary, I worked as a fire chaplain the last couple of years.  We were called out one wintry night, just before Christmas break, to speak to some medics who had extracted a nine-year old child from a badly mangled car, only to have the child die on the way to the hospital.  These medics were from a neighboring fire department, so we didn’t know them, and I didn’t have too much hope that the conversation would go well. But, to my surprise, these men did open up and expressed the frustration they felt.  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?  It was a long evening of conversation that really centered around faith that provided some consolation, although it could never really erase their sadness.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  Two people reach out in very different ways to end suffering and provide healing.  One is a man, who approaches Jesus and falls at his feet, begging the teacher to heal his daughter.  The other is a woman, who dares not make herself known, who sneaks up behind Jesus to touch his clothing.  The situations were different, but what unites them is their faith.  They have faith that reaching out to Jesus in their own way will bring them the healing they desire.

And there was a pretty serious leap of faith involved for the hemorrhaging woman.  Touch was her enemy.  She had suffered much at the hands of many doctors.  Not only have their ministrations failed to heal her, but they have also left her penniless.  And to touch anyone in her state of ritual impurity makes them ritually unclean too.  So she is totally marginalized: she is a woman in a patriarchal society, afflicted by an enduring and debilitating illness, she has no money to take care of herself, and she is unable to be part of the community or participate in worship.  Things could not have been worse.  Finding the courage to reach out to Jesus, even in her impure state, she is healed by her faith.

Now please note that that same faith was lacking in the people who were attending to Jairus’s daughter.  Even if they believed that Jesus could cure her illness, she is now dead, and so his assertion that she is merely “sleeping” meets with ridicule and scorn.  So Jesus has to throw out the faithless ones so that they would no longer be an obstacle.  The child cannot reach out to Jesus so he reaches out to her, taking her hand, and raising her up.

So it’s as simple as that.  An act of faith on the part of the hemorrhaging woman and the synagogue official provide healing and restore life. But how realistically does that match our experience?  I am guessing that those medics threw up a prayer or two in addition to all of the life-saving actions they performed on that nine-year old when he was in the ambulance with them, but the boy still died.  How many of us have prayed faithfully, constantly, only to be met by seemingly deaf ears?  We don’t even have the same opportunity as Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman.  We can’t reach out and touch Jesus in the flesh.  So I would never stand here and tell you that one simple act of faith is all it takes to make all your problems go away.  I always say that faith is not a magic wand.

But I will also say 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, or even in some cases got worse, but in Christ they found the strength to walk through it with dignity and find 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.  For those medics I spent the evening with, the conversation of faith didn’t bring the boy back, but it did provide them with healing and peace and a sense that in God’s time, all would be made right.

I am struck by the Eucharistic imagery at the end of today’s Gospel.  Jesus comes to the home of Jairus and finds his daughter asleep in death.  He reaches out to her, touches her, and raises her up.  Then he instructs those around her to give her something to eat.  We gather for this Eucharistic banquet today and Jesus comes to us, finding us asleep in the death of our sins.  Because we are dead in our sins, we can hardly reach out to touch our Lord, but he reaches out to us.  He takes our hands, raises us up, and gives us something to eat.

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, glorifying the Lord by our lives this day, all of our problems may very well stay with us, remaining unresolved at least to our satisfaction.  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 find peace.  And as we go forth, perhaps we can 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.

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time/Diocesan Appeal Announcement

Today’s readings

Our readings today pick up the sermon that Jesus was giving in last week’s gospel.  Last week, he used the formula: “You have heard that it was said…  But I say to you…” to raise the bar on living the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments.  Merely refraining from actual murder no longer means that we have not murdered in our heart.  Never having had an extra-marital affair doesn’t any longer mean that we haven’t committed sexual sin.  And never having lied under oath doesn’t mean we haven’t stretched the truth in ways that are sinful.  Disciples, people who believe in Christ, are expected to live differently: our faith looks like something, and that something is radical lives of integrity that set out to witness to God’s love in the world.

This week we have a bit more of the same, but this time expressed in terms of positive behavior.  Christian disciples, he tells us, are not just to refrain from anything that would tear down another’s life, they are not just to refrain from seeing people as objects, nor are they just to refrain from lying.  They are to go beyond all that and give of themselves, even when it doesn’t seem like they would strictly be required to do so.  Disciples are to give of themselves even when they themselves have been wronged.  They are to do more than the law requires and offer no resistance to evil.  Disciples are even to love their enemies, for heaven’s sake!

So what we are seeing over these two weekends’ Scriptures are a completely new message for the people of Israel.  Hopefully the message is not a new one for us, but it is, we have to admit, one of which we need to be reminded from time to time.  Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own entitlement, and looking out for number one, and doing what seems best for us.  But disciples are called to a different kind of life, one that leads ultimately to the kingdom of heaven.  If we’re ever going to attain that eternal reward, we have to bring everyone with us that we can.  And to do that, sometimes we’re going to have to let someone else win the argument, or see the good in someone who isn’t presenting a real good side right now.  We might even have to go so far as to love and pray for those who are working against us, and trust God to work it all out.

And the thing is, God is that trustworthy, but sometimes we don’t have faith enough to do that.  That’s something we have to work on every day.  Because if the only one we ever trust in is ourselves, we are destined for a pretty bad end.  Even the brightest and best of us have limited ability, and none of us can ever make up to God for the offenses of our sins.  So our ability to be okay in bad times goes only as far as we can manage, unless we trust in the Father’s care.

Today I am speaking at all the Masses about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  As you are aware, the appeal funds the various ministries of the Diocese of Joliet and is integral to providing funding for so many activities that support our work at the parish level, and also reach out to those in need.  You probably already received a mailing from the diocese asking for your contribution; I know I did.  If, like me, you have already made your pledge, I want to thank you for your participation.  Your generosity makes a huge difference to those who depend on these funds.

In today’s bulletin, you’ll find this tabloid about the appeal.  My favorite part is on the inside where it talks about how our money is being used.  I wanted to briefly point out a few of those.  One of the best, I think, is the education of seminarians, of which our own Chris Lankford is a beneficiary.  We also have another young man who has been accepted from our parish, and he will benefit for that too.  I know that during my time in seminary, I estimated that my education cost the diocese over $100,000, and the costs have certainly gone up in the years since.  We need priests, and so we need to have the funds to educate them.

The diocese serves over 660,000 Catholics in our seven-county area.  Some of the other ways the appeal helps us is by funding Young Adult and Youth Ministry programs that serve over 25,000 young people.  More than 155,000 nights of shelter and housing were provided to the homeless.  The Catholic Schools Office assists and gives direction to our own school and others, serving over 20,000 elementary and high school students, and the Religious Education Office helps train and direct catechists who reach almost 50,000 students a year.

Our parish has always been very generous in so many ways, including to the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  Last year we exceeded our goal and received a rebate from the diocese that helps us to balance our own budget and provide for unforeseen needs, like the greater need for snow removal and salting this year.  I am grateful for all that you have done to accomplish this, and as your pastor, I am proud of the way that we come together to help those who need us.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that “The Lord is kind and merciful.”  God is never outdone in generosity, and so when we extend ourselves to those in need, when we give above and beyond what is strictly required, when we love those who maybe don’t love us, and even pray for our enemies, we can trust that God will give us all that we need and bless us in ways that we may never have expected.  Trust in the Father’s care: that’s what our Scriptures and this year’s appeal ask us to do.  It’s sound advice, and I pray that we would all take note of it!

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to tell you, today’s gospel reading gives me a little bit of a panic attack deep down inside!  I tend to over-pack, and really, over-prepare for everything.  Even though I was never a boy scout, the whole idea of being prepared just really resonates with me.  And so when Jesus says we shouldn’t have a walking stick, food, money or a second tunic, well it’s almost hard for me to breathe!  But the invitation is a good one, especially for those of us who tend to over-prepare.  We are being invited to trust God first and foremost.  If we accept that invitation, think of what great things God will be able to do in us and through us!

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus has for us good news and bad news. The good news is that he is eventually going to send the Holy Spirit upon the world. The Holy Spirit will be a new Advocate for us, and will testify to everything that Jesus said and did. The Spirit’s testimony will be further evidence of God’s abiding love for us, a love that did not come to an end at the cross or the tomb, but instead triumphed over everything to make known his salvation to the ends of the earth. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, combined with the testimony of the Apostles, would be the birth pangs of the emerging Church, given by Christ to make the Gospel known in every land and every age.

But the bad news is, that glory won’t come without a price. Those Apostles would be expelled from the synagogues and misguided worshippers would think they were doing God’s will by killing them. Jesus knew this would be the lot of his baby disciples and he cares for them enough to warn them of what is to come. It is an important aspect of their discernment to know what is to come. Also, by warning them, he is preparing them for what is to come so that when it does happen, they may not be flustered or frightened, but might instead hold deeply to their faith, knowing that God’s providence had foreseen these calamities and they might know that in God’s providence, these calamities would not be the end of the story.

We are beneficiaries of the good news and bad news of today’s Gospel. We have heard the testimony of the Spirit and the Apostles, have been nourished by the Church they founded, have been encouraged by all that they suffered to bring the Good News to us. It is important that we too know that there is good news and bad news in the future of our discipleship. The Spirit continues to testify and the Apostles continue to teach us – that’s the good news. The bad news is, sometimes our faith will be tested. But in the end, it’s all Good News: even our suffering will not be the end of the story. God’s love triumphs over everything.  That’s our Easter faith.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever had to deal with people working against you?  Most of us have.  Most of us have experienced people spreading lies about us, trying to get others to work against us.  And today we find ourselves in good company.  Today’s readings find the prophet Jeremiah, king David and Jesus all in that same boat.

A prophet’s job is never easy; nobody wants to hear what they don’t want to hear.  So for Jeremiah, things are getting dangerous: people want him dead.  The same is true for Jesus, who is rapidly approaching the cross.  David finds that his enemies are pursuing him to the point of death, like the waters of the deep overwhelming a drowning man.

But all of them find their refuge in God.  Jeremiah writes, “For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!”  David takes consolation in the fact that “From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”  And for Jesus, well, his time had not yet come.

When we are provoked like they were, how do we respond?  Is our first thought to take refuge in God, or do we try to solve the problem on our own?  If we don’t turn to God, we might find those waves overwhelming us; if we turn to God, things may or may not improve, but whatever the case, we will always find refuge and safety in our God.