Homily for August 28, 2011, XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A
Note: This is not the homily I gave at Mass, but I don’t have that one written down and I forgot to record it for a podcast. This is one I wrote but decided at the last minute not to use.
At moments like this one, when there is a major hurricane barreling down on us, it’s pretty easy and natural for us to turn to God. The power of the forces of nature intimidates us and reminds us that on the grand scale of things, despite all our technology, we are still very small and fragile creatures. There is little to nothing we can do to stop natural disasters. We can only try to minimize the risk to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our property, principally by building sturdy walls and getting out of the way.
The realization that our lives and possessions can be taken away from us very quickly by the blind forces of wind and water, helps us to appreciate the relevance of seeking God’s help and being on good terms with Him so we are ready to meet Him when He calls us. We may experience something similar when we face serious illness or other major difficulties in our lives.
Sometimes we forget these truths when things are going well for us. We might still keep up a minimal prayer life, but God’s share in our time and priorities can sometimes lose value against other interests that give us immediate returns of fun, pleasure and prosperity. We tend to forget the fact that sooner or later, hurricane or no hurricane, all human prevision notwithstanding, we will lose all of our earthly goods and stand before God with nothing but our acts of love or selfishness. Whether we go to heaven or hell is not decided by our material quality of life on earth, but by our relationship to God and each other.
Jesus reminds us today that if we want to reap the fruits of His redemption, we have to be willing to follow in the His footsteps. If we want to follow Him to heaven, we have to be willing to lay aside all else and accept the demands that His commandments of love place on us. In short, we have to be willing to lose our lives for His sake in order to save them.
This is very counter-cultural today, but no more than at the time of Christ. St. Paul’s exhortation in the second reading could not be more relevant: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”; “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
Being counter-cultural is not at all easy; we need God’s grace, so that we may have an experience more like Jeremiah describes in the first reading. His faithfulness to God brought him persecution, but his love for God was greater than his self-love, and he could not keep himself from fulfilling his God-given mission as a prophet.
This is not to say that our health and comfort are totally irrelevant. God calls some people to a special vocation of complete self-denial to serve others, but that is not the case for everyone. Generally speaking, we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. We should be responsible stewards of our bodies and our goods, but our love and service of God and neighbor should come first.
We have plenty of opportunities to carry this out, especially this weekend and no doubt during the coming days. Prayer, of course, extra prayer for those in the path, those whose lives are negatively impacted by the wind, surge and rain. There will be a need for clean-up, perhaps for helping neighbors, especially the elderly or home-bound, with shopping or assistance if power goes out and roads are blocked. Our energy, love and prayers for friends, family and strangers is a chance to use our time to love God by loving others.
May God grant each one of us a burning love of God and desire for the joys of heaven, so that we put God’s will first, and so that like the Psalmist, we can say, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” “For you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts”.