Here is my Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 22, 2008 -(readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/062208.shtml)
Thanks to all my readers for their feedback and messages. I’m happy to be able to share my homily with those interested and appreciate you taking the time to stop by to read this. God Bless – Fr Jim
There was a story in the news recently entitled Cancer Doctors Avoid End-of Life Talk. According to the story, many oncologists often refuse to tell terminally ill patients the truth about their condition. One of the major reasons is that they don’t wish to bring on a sense of fear in the patient. But the surprising thing according to a national study, cancer patients who were informed by their doctor of their true condition often did better than those who were not. Most patients who knew their condition were better prepared to face the reality, as well as their families. It helped them make decisions they had been putting off. It didn’t always take away the fear of death, but the truth often helped mitigate that understandable sense of fear.
Most people find mortality a bit fearful. It’s one of many fears that people have and rarely talk about. Of course people go through life with all kinds of fear. Some are legitimate ones. If you were walking through the woods and by chance met a bear, you might be a bit afraid. And you should be! (Actually, from what I read in the paper this week, you could be at McDonald’s on Route 1 and meet a bear too… That had to be a bit frightening, you’re looking to get an Egg McMuffin in the drive through, and there’s a bear in front of you)
Many people fear economic and employment right now, and that’s intensified when you you have a family to care for. Chronic illness have the same effect. Then of course, there are people who suffer from irrational or overwhelming fears better known as phobias. We all probably have a little bit of those too – but for those who legitimately suffer from this, the condition is crippling. Those fears may be labeled irrational but to the person dealing with it, it’s quite real. I’ll never forget in one of the Peanuts cartoons, Lucy telling Charlie Brown that his problem is that he has phobaphobia… which is the fear of everything! Well, I guess we can have those days too.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah wasn’t exactly thrilled about his calling by God to be a prophet. He knew that he was being sent with a message that the receivers weren’t all that interested in hearing. Jeremiah was sent to Israel just as they were on the brink of yet another national disaster. Their lack of attention to Jeremiah, and all the prophets before him, lead to their eventual conquest and captivity by the Babylonians. Time and again Jeremiah wanted to just pack it in and walk away because he knew that no one wanted to hear what he had to say. In fact he’s afraid to deliver the message because then, just as now, it’s very often the messenger who gets shot. He constantly had to work to overcome this fear.
In the gospel, Jesus warns the disciples to be wary of those who seek, not to destroy the body, but those who wish to destroy the soul. In other words, those who wish to crush our spirits, that part of ourselves that by it’s nature seeks union with God. Notice that Jesus pulls no punches here. He’s quite open and honest.
There is a sense of danger that goes along with being a disciple of Christ. For some, it required their very lives. But for Jesus that isn’t the most dangerous thing, nor is it the thing we should fear the most. The only thing he claims we should fear (not fear itself) but rather we should fear anything that would kill our desire for God and to be His disciple.
However, the trouble with those things that seek to destroy our souls or spirits is that very often, on the face of it, they don’t seem like something that we need to fear. In fact, the real danger lies in their being so innocent, so benign, so understandable that they don’t seem to pose any danger at all. For example, for some people who stop attending Mass it’s not that they’re all upset over an issue – they’re not all riled up and stop by the church to post their 95 thesis’ on the front door and then walk away. Rather, they simply drift away – a kid’s athletic event here, a chance to sleep in there, a busy weekend with too many things to get done around the house, the one day sale at the mall, a vacation trip they don’t want to interrupt with going to church. None of those things seem worth being afraid of do they? But strung all together they soon replace the regular practice of attending Mass for some people. That’s what makes them so problematic because their effect can be so deadly if they keep us from nourishing our spirits with the Eucharist.
We all have our own fears to deal with, the legitimate as well as the irrational. On any given Sunday –in any given church– people have their own concerns, their own worries and anxieties and their own fears that they bring with them. If we are to be true disciples we cannot pretend that we don’t have these emotions and feelings, or that they can often be formidable.
In bringing them before God and through the support of those around us those fears loose their potency and our spirits are strengthened. What we need to fear is anything that separates us from God. “Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul.” In light of this gospel, many of the things we put time and energy into fearing, actually pales in comparison to the ones to which we often never give a second thought.