Hi everyone, here’s my homily for October 6, 2013 – the 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today can be found at https://usccb.org/bible/readings/100613.cfm . As always, thanks for reading, your comments, for sharing the blog with others and your feedback. I’m grateful for the thousands of clicks each week. God Bless, Fr. Jim
“I SAY TO THIS TEMPORARY FOLDING WALL COME DOWN! BE FOLDED NEATLY IN THE CORNER”
Guess the truth is out that my faith’s not too strong either, huh?
I don’t mean that to sound flippant or that I’m not taking the Gospel seriously. Because the truth of the matter, this Gospel really hit a little too close to home for me. And as much as I would have liked to dodge it and spin it in a different direction, I’m not really able to. Let me explain:
Some of you might have seen on my facebook wall that a friend of mine -a guy by the name of Timmy Groves – died what will be a month ago this coming Tuesday. I’ve known Tim over 14 years now. He became a police officer for the Township of West Orange the same year I was ordained and got assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes, one of the parishes in the town. He was one of the most sincere, honorable guys I’ve ever met. Fiercely loyal. Hard working. Selfless. He had some quirks (like all of us do). For example he was very introverted – which was kind of hard being a public figure like a police officer… and didn’t particularly like people touching him – I’m not sure if it was the Irish part of him, the cop part of him or just him – but he definitely had personal space boundaries that people knew really quickly. The reason that’s funny to me was I remember one evening having a beer with him and a couple of friends and someone who knew him from High School came up to us. Actually she ran up to Tim as she screamed out “TIMMY GROVES – I don’t believe its you!” By the way she screamed that, I could kind of tell that she probably had as many beers as the four of us combined at that point. Well she put her arms on his shoulders as if they had been long lost friends…which made me laugh because yeah, you wouldn’t do that to Tim… And pretty much every other person in the bar could tell this was really not a good idea as you observed this just-moments-earlier laid back, calm Tim getting increasingly more uncomfortable. In fact his ears and neck started getting redder and redder. It was amazing he was actually boiling up like a cartoon character. As she pointed out “I remember you used to have red hair” as she kind of brushed his head he very pointedly said “You can stop touching me.” After a few moments of this, our one friends worried that — well, we didn’t quite know what was going to happen, but as funny as it was one level, we didn’t really want to see what would happen – well this friend decides to distract her by introducing me “Have you met ‘Father Jim’.” Now Tim’s long lost girlfriend completely lost interest in him, put her focus on to me with a litany of drunken questions about being a priest, being Catholic… Next thing I knew, Tim quickly got up and darted out of the bar.
Yeah, Tim was a real character. And these last 7 years that I’ve been here at Newman Catholic, we were blessed to have Tim as our landscaper (which was his side-job when he was off-duty) His meticulousness, verging on the line of being OCD, was to our benefit as he transformed our property from being over-run with leaves, weeds and garbage to neatly manicured, well-maintained grounds.
It was about 15 months ago that he called me one day and told me that he had been in and out of the hospital a couple of times because he had had such severe stomach pains in the middle of the night. He knew as a friend I wouldn’t gossip or share his private business – and to make sure, he would invoke the “priest card” by saying “I know as a priest you won’t tell anyone about this.” I knew that was bad. It was bad that he would even acknowledge the need o go to the Hospital. It was even worse that he was actually sharing and confiding this to me (like I said he was very private and introverted when it came to himself) And a few weeks later we learned he had Pancreatic Cancer. Only 46 years old and the doctors were telling him to “get your affairs in order…”
I’ve been taking his death harder than I imagined. Part of that is just the human side of it – to lose a friend sucks and it hurts and it’s painful. But there’s another reason that started to come to light praying with this gospel which is why I wanted to share all this with you. In this Gospel, we hear at the beginning the apostles saying to Jesus “Increase our Faith.” Because the apostles were wondering where God was or what following Jesus meant when they had encountered real suffering. You see, in the scene right before the Gospel we just heard, the apostles had tried to heal a sick child and they weren’t able to. That’s why they ask Jesus to “Increase our Faith” – in a sense they’re saying “Make us more powerful Lord — because it’s not working…” and what does he say? “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would obey you.”
After that really awful encounter that the apostles had, an experience where they had to have felt ineffective, disappointed in themselves, even sad – Jesus’ response sounds like he’s saying it’s there fault because they have a meager or weak faith.
But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Not that his answer would satisfy everyone who is dealing with sorrow – who is confronted with suffering – who is in pain right now. But what Jesus’ is telling us is that if we truly have Faith – some amazing things can happen. But what is Faith? Because often times we think of faith like magic. We think “OK God – I believe in you – REALLY I do – so heal this person of cancer.” And when it doesn’t work – that’s our reason to NOT believe anymore.
And that’s a temptation for all of us – even me a priest – to resist. Because yes, it hurt that when I laid hands on Tim, gave him the anointing of the Sick and brought him Jesus Christ in the Eucharist that he wasn’t miraculously healed. And there’s been sadness thinking that I wasn’t able to do more for him. But when I look at those feelings, I realize they really are self-centered ones. They’re disappointment in my abilities, what I wanted and what I wanted to happen.
But that’s not Faith.
Faith finds God’s presence, God’s action in the midst of life – in the midst of our worlds – in the midst of all the good and bad things and still believes that God will win out in the end. That yes, death will be defeated, that yes, suffering and pain will end. That God is working with us and through us to make that happen here and now in all kinds of ways.
Or as Pope Francis so beautifully put it: “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).”
We’re not suppose to have Faith in our own desires – but rather Faith in God and believing that He does work – sometimes He works in incredible miraculous ways, sometimes in small mustard seeds that won’t be able to be appreciated for some time – but we have to come back to that point of believing that he works with us, through us and all around us.
But, for example, I have to get out of my self-absorption of what I wanted for my friend Tim to recognize that God was able to use me to help my friend during the toughest fight of his life. That this very private, isolated man would actually share his pain; that he was able to let me and some others in like that, possibly for the first time in a very long time was miraculous. And there are many ways that remain hidden to me right now – where God was moving in and through and around me and Tim and all of his other friends and family members. Things that seem small, like mustard seeds as compared to the big miraculous dramatic healing I wanted. But seeds that people of faith can see yield growth in the a much bigger garden where God our Father is constantly at work to bring His creation to its fulfillment.
No doubt each and everyone of us tonight has our own lists of intentions, and prayers. And some might be incredibly challenging – Mom is out of work; Dad is sick; a friend attempted suicide. And our being here is in part a sign of our love for them and our seeking God’s presence… looking for answers, looking for power and strength to solve those issues as we too want Jesus to “increase our faith.” Very gently the Lord points out – we already posses all the faith necessary. We don’t need an increase of faith – but rather an increase of trust in Him …