The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Homily: Mass and Healing Service - July 8, 2017

Readings: Gn 27:1-5,15-29 • Ps 135 • Mt 9:14-17


Jacob tricks his father, Isaac
What wonderful readings the Church has given us today. Hearing the story of Jacob and Esau only cements my belief in the historical truth of much of the Old Testament. The story of this ancient family is so very human it must be true.

Indeed, passages like today's from Genesis are what separate the Old Testament from the historical and spiritual writings of other ancient peoples. In the writings of those other cultures the failures and sinfulness of their human leaders rarely arise. Yes, according to their chronicles, the ancient kings and pharaohs, the priests and sages were all near-perfect beings. They won every battle, they were always wise and just, and their children were perfect mirror images of themselves.

Among the ancients the only place we'll ever encounter two sons like Jacob and Esau is exactly where we find them, in the Bible - one, along with their mother, conniving and deceitful, the other arrogant and foolish. And yet Jacob, with all his blemishes and sins, is one of the great patriarchs of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Of course we see it again and again...if only among the kings of God's people. David, the great king who also happened to be an adulterer and murderer. His son, Solomon, who neglects God's gift of wisdom, becomes enamored of foreign women (quite a few of them, actually), and turns to idolatry. And these two kings, perhaps along with Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others, were probably the best of the bunch.

So...what are we to think?

Well, in truth, we should thank God for the gift of the flawed men and women who fill the pages of God's Word...for what a gift they are to us! In these broken, oh-so-human lives we come face to face with God's enduring forgiveness. We come face to face with God's mercy.

If you worry about your family being mildly dysfunctional, just take a closer look at Abraham's, or Isaac's, or Jacob's. Despite all their problems, all their sinfulness, God's mercy just overflows into their lives. And God wants to shower you and those you love with that same outpouring of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, without God's mercy, we would be - what's the best word? - doomed!

Without God's mercy our sins would overwhelm us.

Without God's mercy, there would be no Incarnation, no redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, no Resurrection to offer us the hope of eternal life.

Without God's mercy there is no salvation; for the Incarnation is the supreme act of mercy, the supreme act of our merciful, loving God.

He becomes one of us, He lives with us, He teaches us, He forgives us, He heals us, He loves us, and He suffers and dies for us. He does all of this for our salvation. He does all of this so we can be healed.

That's right. Without God's mercy there can be no healing. And we are all, every single one of us, in need of healing, aren't we?

Why are you here today? What kind of healing do you seek?

Are you in pain...physical pain, the kind that can scream at you, causing you to question God's love?

Or maybe an illness, one of those devastating, fear-laden illnesses that make prayer so very hard?

Or is it depression, or another spirit-draining affliction that seems to attack our very humanity?

Is this the healing you seek?

What about the healing you need?

When we place ourselves at the foot of the Cross, when we look up at our crucified Lord, do we tear open our very being, do we rend our hearts exposing all to His merciful gaze? Do we come to Him, ready to die to self and sin? Looking at Him, do we find ourselves completely overwhelmed by this incomprehensible act of divine merciful love?

You see, brothers and sisters, I don't know God's plan for you...and neither do you. But I do know what He wants of you.

He wants you, He wants me, He wants every single one of us to come to Him, to abandon ourselves to Him, to allow His will to move within our lives. But it's never easy to set aside our own willfulness and abandon ourselves to God's will.

When our wills dominate, we end up broken, and yet it's through that brokenness that God call to us.  He knows when our need for His mercy, for His healing touch, is greatest.

At some point, though, we will all be broken physically, broken beyond repair. As Paul reminds us this mortal body is just a tent, a temporary dwelling, until you and I move into that eternal dwelling which God has prepared for us [2 Cor 5:1].

But in the meantime, it's so easy to slide into despair, to think that we're not deserving of God's mercy. We become like Peter who, when he suddenly comprehended the gulf between his sinfulness and God's greatness, could only say: "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man" [Lk 5:8].

But Jesus didn't depart did He? In fact, it was then, at that very moment, that Jesus called Peter and the others to be Apostles, to be sent into the world, to be fishers of men.

Did you listen closely to today's Gospel passage from Matthew? It isn't really so much about fasting as it is about the new covenant that Jesus makes with us. And it is new indeed. It's not the patchwork of the old covenant; it's not old wine poured into old wineskins.

No Jesus is offering us something wonderfully new, and He demands something new from us. This newness is nothing less than the Gospel, the command to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves.

That's right, brothers and sisters, we're to look beyond ourselves, to die to self and sin and live for the other. And we're to do all this even in the midst of hurt and grief and illness and pain.

Just as He called Peter and the Apostles, Jesus calls us in the midst of our brokenness. He calls us when illness and fear try to overwhelm us. And He calls us in our sinfulness, when our flaws are most apparent. It's then when our need for His mercy is the greatest.

Flannery O'Connor
One of my favorite writers is Flannery O'Connor, who wrote so many wonderful stories of repentance, mercy, and redemption. A Georgia girl, she died in her late thirties after a long battle with lupus. It was a battle that lasted her entire adult life. While in the midst of all her suffering, she wrote some remarkable words in a letter to a friend. Listen to them:
"I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, a very instructive place, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." [The Habit of Being]
Have you ever thought of your affliction, your need for healing, as a mercy? I know I never had. My only serious illness was in my infancy, so I suppose I cannot fully comprehend what Flannery O'Connor meant by these words.

But our Lord certainly understood, always reminding us that fear has no place in the Christian's heart. And so, again, when we suffer, when we turn to God in prayer, what are we to do?

I really believe the first thing to do is to thank Him.

Joyce Kilmer, the Catholic poet, is another of my favorites. He was struck down by a sniper's bullet during World War One. But in the midst of his wartime experience, in the midst of destruction and devastation and death he wrote a little poem called "Thanksgiving." 

     The roar of the world in my ears.
     Thank God for the roar of the world!
     Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
     Against me always hurled!

     Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
     And the sting of His chastening rod!
     Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
     And Oh, thank God for God!

Brothers and sisters, that's exactly what we must do: just thank God for everything.

Thank God for the joys and the pains of our lives. They are all gifts, even when they are beyond our understanding. Yes, thank God for life itself.

And then, today and every day, we can let Him worry about the healing.

After all, He's pretty good at it.

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