Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – September 12, 2010 given at the NEWMAN CATHOLIC CENTER at MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY. The readings can be found at https://www.usccb.org/nab/091210.shtml . As always – thanks for reading and all of your feedback! God Bless – Fr. Jim

“Rosary Saves soldiers life…” OK when I saw that headline, you got me, I’m going to click to read it. The story reported that Glenn Hockton who is 19 from England is absolutely convinced that a rosary saved his life. Before he had left for Afghanistan, Glenn had asked his mother to get him a rosary, which he had kept on himself ever since. Just about a month ago, he was on patrol when he felt the prayer beads, which he had been wearing around his neck fall off. When he realized something had happened to make them fall off his neck, he stopped, saw the beads on the ground and bent down to pick them up. As he had bent down he made a horrible discovery. He realized that he was standing on a landmine. Glenn had to stand there for 45 terrifying minutes while his colleagues successfully managed to get to him and bring him to safety.

If that’s not impressive enough, add this part to the story. Glenn’s great-grandfather also credited a rosary with saving his life in World War II. Towards the end of that war, Glen’s grandfather who was a member of the British Army had been captured. He and the other prisoners from his platoon were forced to march away from the advancing Allied armies. As he was walking across a field with half a dozen of his platoon, he saw something on the ground. It was a rosary. Just as he bent down to pick it up, was the exact moment a bomb blast suddenly went off. Glen’s grandfather was the only member of his platoon who survived that blast.

This story appeared in all kinds of news sites and forums from FOX News, Associated Press to Catholic web-sites and blogs. People are understandably interested in such a story. Many were even calling it “miraculous.” I bet Glenn saw it that way. That his great grandfather had experienced a similar – rosary-miracle, had told that story enough that it would be passed down and remembered two generations later, well, it obviously made an impression on their whole family. It makes you think that Glen will be forever shaped, forever changed by his own personal experience. In a very vivid way, Glenn can talk about how God loved him enough, cared for him enough, was present to him at the moment he needed him the most, the moment when everything was on the line. Yes, God was there for him. But it’s interesting – I’m not sure that was the miracle…Maybe it was a coincidence…

For me the miraculous thing for Glenn and for each of us is that God is there for us. God has always loved, has always cared, has always been present to us. He was there the moments before Glenn picked up that rosary to the moments after. And He would have been there had Glenn slipped and some tragic, all-to-familiar, and less “miraculous” story had happened. Or had Glenn taken a different walking path, forgot about the rosary he was wearing on his neck and in a sense never really acknowledged God’s presence at all that day.

That’s the incredible news that Jesus speaks to us as we hear this well-known Gospel:

That God never stops thinking of us. He never stops looking for us. He never stops loving us. He never takes his sights off of us. And even when we run away from his sight, even when we’ve hurt him, taken advantage of his love, forgotten him… even then, He is always hoping for our return, wanting the best for us, His love never ends. He never stops thinking of us.

You almost get the sense that Jesus knows how hard it is for his listeners to hear that, or maybe not hear that, but to actually, really believe that. Look at the crowd who has come to hear him – Pharisees and scribes who are already suspicious (at best) of Jesus and looking at these other dregs of society, these “sinners” coming around and saying “what are they doing here?” – Yeah, if this Jesus is who He says He is, well, he should know that these sinners, these losers (tax collectors – even they’re here, come on… adulterers that’s one thing, but tax collectors…) All these losers don’t belong here. They shouldn’t even dare come into the remotest corners of God’s presence… Those who were labeled sinners already felt that way. That something they had done, said, mistakes they had made, wrongs they had committed – those things had left them disconnected from their neighbors, families and friends. So they believed God, too, had little use for them. Nothing to do but wait for that eternal punishment…

Jesus as he look at this group of people with all of these thoughts doesn’t throw his hands up in the air and say “YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF LOSERS – YOU’RE ALL A MESS – I’M OUTTA HERE…” He looks at the Pharisee, he looks at the Scribe, He looks at the tax collector and the sinner and says “Do you guys realize that my Father never stops thinking of you? Never stops thinking about any one of you?”

In his joy, Jesus can’t contain His excitement to tell us who the Father really is. That one sheep, who gets lost out of the 100 – yeah, our Father can’t stop thinking about him… He’s worried about the sheep – is the sheep lost… is the sheep hurt… is the sheep scared… is the sheep about to be attacked by ravenous wolves… I have to find my lost sheep… That one lost coin our of the 10, yeah our Father can’t stop thinking about that either – I know, I have other coins, I’m not broke… but it couldn’t have just “ceased” to exist… it didn’t just disappear, I need, no I must keep looking – I have to find that.

The two sons, our Father can’t stop thinking about either one of them either. They’re both grown men, the Father has done all that he could for them to share His love and His life. First the one wishes him dead (that’s the not so subtle thing he’s saying by asking for his “share of the estate” – Dad I really can’t wait for you to die so I get my inheritance, how’s ‘bout you give me mine now) in the face of the insult, the Father simply gives his son what he promised he would, and watches as the kid takes off. The gospel says after the wayward one has finished making a complete mess and with shame and guilt starts to walk home, “when he was still far off, the Father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” That always struck me – the Father is there, looking for the Son, thinking of him, and at the sight of him, there’s not pain or anger over the past, there’s just joy that the one he’s been thinking of is coming home… Now the other son somehow thinks he’s getting the raw end of the deal because the Father actually loves the brother who messes up as much as he loves him. The Father goes to him, not to argue, not to smack him in the head and ask ARE YOU KIDDING ME – NOW YOU TOO??? – he goes to him hoping the son will see he has never lacked, never been slighted and is loved. That the Father never stopped thinking of Him either, even as he was worried about what was lost.

The thing is that we live in a world keeps perpetuating lies, lies that say that people are as dispensable as lost sheep (hey, got 99 others…) That people are replaceable as lost coins (one of my coins is missing? well that’s what insurance is for) or that there’s a limit to the number of blessings available in this life (I better get my share or make sure he’s not getting more than I did)

Jesus’ can’t contain the joy within himself to tell us… To tell every one of us that God never stops thinking of every one of us. He never stops looking for us. He never stops loving us. He never takes his sights off of us. And even when we run away from his sight, even when we’ve hurt him, taken advantage of his love, forgotten him… even then, He is always hoping for our return, wanting the best for us, His love never ends. He never stops thinking of us. That is the real miracle…