Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 20, 2015

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20
James 3: 16-4: 3
Mark 9: 30-37

“Aging is mandatory but maturing is optional.” Or so the saying goes. We can’t do a single thing about getting older. But we do have choices to make about maturing as we age.

Sometimes adults can act like little kids. Today’s Gospel is a case in point. The 12 Apostles were walking with Jesus to Capernaum and they were arguing among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest.

And Jesus sets them straight when He says: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And then – as a kind of visual aid – Jesus puts His arms around a child and says: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me. And whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

“Welcome a child,” Jesus says, “and you welcome me.”

Children are a wonderful blessing. But those of you who have them know that they can also be quite messy, quite noisy and they can keep us off balance.

A busy mother was getting dinner prepared for her family, and trying to get that last bit of catsup out of the bottle. Then the phone rang and she asked one of her daughters to answer it. And she did so very politely, as she had been taught.

“Mommy, it’s Father Smith from church.” And then she says back into the telephone: “Mommy can’t come to the phone right now. She’s hitting the bottle.”

Yes, kids can keep us off balance sometimes. And yet – even though they are small – they can teach us grown-ups some powerful lessons.

Look at all of their energy. They don’t simply walk – they run, skip, hop, and probably would fly if they were able. And we mope along, dragging our feet and looking worn out. We can get a bit jaded in life, a bit cynical and disappointed. And yet when we look at our children, they believe that anything is possible. They are full of hope and expectation. They see every person as someone to love. The little ones even serve us.

“Aging is mandatory. Maturing is optional.” Jesus wants all of His disciples to grow in maturity and He gives us the formula and the example: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself and became a man. He chose to be a servant. And if we want to be like Him, we must become servants as well.

For people who are insecure in life, this is a difficult lesson. They frequently try to mask their own insecurities by commanding a lot of attention for themselves or by wanting to control others. Humility is very threatening for them. But Jesus is our model. He takes us from immaturity, where we are takers – to maturity, where we are givers.

A real temptation for so many people is to think that everybody else has it better than they do – perfect marriages, perfect families, perfect homes, perfect jobs. May I tell you from my vantage point of being a priest for 40 years that I do not know of any perfect marriages, families, homes or jobs. I know of lots and lots of people who are working hard to improve in these areas every day – and they make progress, one day at a time. But achieving perfection? Not in this lifetime on earth!

But we continue to strive and to grow each day with God’s grace to become more mature as we age: moving from being less takers to becoming more givers. “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Look at what happened to the Apostles. They moved from immaturity, arguing about which one of them was the greatest – to becoming more mature, becoming preachers and evangelizers, giving their lives for Christ and for others. They moved from being takers to becoming givers – from self-interest to service.

There is a classic story about a lady who was going through some very tough times in life. And she was feeling very sorry for herself. One day she went to visit the village wise man, asking him how she could become happy again.

He gave her this advice: “Walk through a neighborhood and look for a home where you think there are no problems, and knock on the door. And when you find one such home, come back and let me know.”

She never returned because she never found a home where there were no problems or worries or suffering. And she also discovered that she was a pretty good listener. And moving from the misery of her self-pity to the ministry of serving others she became a very happy person once again.

And so Jesus gives us some very good advice today for our living: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

We have His example and His grace – and lots of opportunities before us today.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 13, 2015

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Isaiah 50: 5-9a
James 2: 14-18
Mark 8: 27-35

Jesus asks a very important question in today’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

And Simon Peter answers: “You are the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the Living God” [Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:30, Luke 9:20].

How do you answer that question? It is a critical question, demanding a personal response from every single one of us as followers of Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”

Over the ages people have provided lots of answers to this question, and very often they want to shape Jesus to their own preferences. There was one age where people thought of Jesus as a kind of Zeus-like deity, ready to cast lightning bolts at the world. Another age has seen Jesus as a well-groomed man on a solid gold cross from Tiffany’s.

Someone said that in our times we tend to look at Jesus as “Jesus L-I-T-E”: Jesus my buddy, who is ready to pat me on the back, give me a high-five, and wink at my “misbehavior” – a Jesus who is sweet and non-judgmental… a live-and-let-live kind of guy. But not someone we would die for, and not necessarily someone we would live for either.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks us.

There was a survey that was taken of young Americans about their faith-lives. Some good news from that survey was that most of the respondents were not hostile towards religion. But why? Because, as some said, “Religion is no big deal.” Some others even said, “Jesus is no big deal.”

One of the respondents even went on to say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter – everyone goes to heaven after they die, and I know that in the end Jesus is going to forgive me for everything that I’ve done wrong in life. So what’s the worry?” What kind of a Jesus is that? That is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

As Richard Nieber put it: what some people want to believe in is “a God without wrath who brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”

Our young people are full of passion, and we sometimes, as older people, present a passion-less Jesus to them. Our youth want to make a difference in our world – they are idealistic, they are generous, and they are looking to do something meaningful with their lives.

That’s one of the reasons that a million young people turn out for World Youth Day, wherever in the world it is held, in order to be with an elderly Pope. And why do they want to be with the Pope? Because he stands for something, and for Someone. Our young people look for the heroic, but sometimes we, as older people, have presented a Jesus to them that is more like a toothy Paul Lynde with a halo than someone to live and die for.

“Who do you say that I am?” Who is the Jesus we read about in the Gospels? He is a Jesus who will get upset with us and tell us to pluck out our eye if our eyes are accessing pornography on the internet. He is a Jesus who is not happy about the violence in our world that we willingly bring into our lives and our homes through television, through movies, through video games. Jesus tells us that if somebody slaps us on one cheek, we should turn and offer that person the other cheek. And that we are to forgive from our hearts.

And that if we don’t, there are consequences: we run the risk of losing the joy of heaven and coming to the pains of hell.

Is the picture that I’m painting right now of Jesus inaccurate? No, it’s not, if you read the Gospels. In Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells the story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. The sheep say to Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink….?” And Jesus answers, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me,” and they went off to eternal glory in heaven.

But the goats said, “When did we see you hungry and not feed you, or thirsty and not give you drink….?” And to them Jesus says, “As often as you did NOT do this for the least of my brothers and sisters you failed to do it for me,” and they went off to eternal punishment in hell.

“Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered so well: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Take that question to heart, my fellow Christians. So much rests upon your answer and my answer. In fact, everything rests upon our answer. “And you – who do you say that I am?”

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 6, 2015

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Isaiah 35: 4-7a
James 2: 1-5
Mark 7: 31-37

“You really did that well!” That is a line that I think all of us like to hear from other people, whether on the golf course, the football field, at a staff meeting, after giving a presentation at school or having made a very special meal at home. “You really did that well!”

And that is what people were saying about Jesus in today’s Gospel after He cured a man who could not hear or speak plainly: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

When we look at today’s Gospel we discover a very tender scene. It shows us how considerate Jesus was of a person’s feelings.

There was a man who could not hear and could not speak plainly. Jesus came along and the crowd wanted Jesus to lay His hand on him right there and then and cure him. But notice the manner Jesus used in curing him – how considerate Jesus was of this man and his special needs.

The Gospel says that Jesus took that man “off by himself, away from the crowd.” Why? Well, the crowd was very noisy and excited, and they were probably gesturing wildly. But the deaf man could not hear them. He did not know what they were saying. He may have thought that they were all talking about him.

Jesus knew that this man had a special need and Jesus did not want him to be embarrassed. Jesus wanted him to understand what He was about to do, so he took the man “off by himself, away from the crowd.”

Then Jesus makes clear to the man what He was about to do for him. How? The Gospel says that Jesus “put His finger into the man’s ears” to let him know, “I am going to heal your deafness so that you will be able to hear.”

And then “spitting, He touched his tongue.” Now you are probably thinking, “How gross!” But may I remind you that in the ancient word, saliva was thought to be healing. And we even recognize that today. What do you do when you burn your finger in the kitchen? You likely touch your burnt finger to your tongue, right? Jesus wanted to make it clear that He was going to heal the man’s speech.

Then Jesus “looked up to heaven” to let the man know that this was something that God was doing for him. And then Jesus said to him, “Ephphatha!” – that is, “Be opened!” And the man could now hear and could speak plainly. He was cured.

Now Jesus could have performed that miracle in front of the crowd. And He could have done it very quickly. But out of consideration for that man and his special needs, Jesus took him away by himself and then carefully explained to him by gestures what He was about to do for him in a way that the man could understand.

We see here the consideration of Jesus. Jesus did not treat that man like he was simply “a case.” He was a person who deserved consideration and respect. Jesus cared for him in a way that spared his feelings and in a way that he could readily understand. And so the crowd remarked, “He has done all things well.” And indeed He has.

Jesus teaches us by His example how we are to treat people around us. We can do what is actually “a good deed” for someone else, but we can lessen its good effect if we rush through it or treat the person as though they were an inconvenience and really did not deserve our time or our full attention. Or we can turn a small good deed into something much larger if we offer it in a way that shows our personal consideration for the person receiving it.

That is the example that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel about the tender manner in which He healed the man who was deaf and unable to speak. Jesus teaches us by His own example how to compound the goodness of a good deed by not just “getting it done,” but by making the extra personal effort to “do it well.”