Hi everyone – here’s my homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 18, 2009. We’ve had a “lock-in” here at Montclair State over the weekend, which is basically an overnight retreat. So this Sunday night Mass is kind of the close to that retreat (hence the more “local” examples) – but perhaps these examples will help trigger local examples for you as well.
The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/101809.shtml
God Bless – Father Jim
So it’s 12:30 on Thursday night. Or more accurately Friday morning. I’ve been working on this homily most of the week – prayed with this gospel trying to listen to what Jesus is speaking to me through the readings. A variety of ideas and thoughts come to mind on what direction to go. Nothing seems to work.
I just deleted another Word Perfect document draft of my homily (Yeah, I use Word Perfect and I’m proud of it), when Matt Higgins (our recent college graduate who’s a campus minister here with me) stops by. He wanted to talk about this weekend’s Lock-in (a mini-overnight retreat we have on campus). He had a couple of questions about some of the retreat talks. Final counts for the weekend – questions about supplies and other details… He leaves and I’m thinking to myself, it’s Thursday night – Matt’s 23 years old. Yet he’s been working hours upon hours on this Lock-in for weeks with our lock-in team. This is one thing among a variety of other things that people don’t even know about or realize that Matt does. He’s a smart, good guy… could be doing anything – yet here he is, investing his time and energy, selflessly giving them…
As he leaves, I can still hear people downstairs (remember it’s after midnight) It’s one of our 5 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Missionaries. Now those of you who know them or met them in the last 7 weeks or so, probably realize what awesome people they are. They’re recent college graduates. Smart, diverse, gifted people. Even with this terrible economy and high unemployment, all 5 of them could be employed – without a doubt. They’re hardworking. They’re intelligent. Yet, here it is after midnight and one of them is still working (and laughing with their helpers) as they stuff envelopes – writing to people and asking for their financial support so that they can pay their rent, get gas for their cars, take care of all their bills as they work here, serving YOU. Come to think of it, I’ve seen that all week. In between doing their multiple Bible studies, meetings to try to make sure as many of you who want to go to the conference over Christmas break can go – sitting and spending time with students, after ALL OF THAT, our missionaries have been working – whether it was later on Friday evening last week, or various hours they found during the week in between meetings, etc, all of them doing the same appeal letters to people. They’re doing all of this; they are here, putting their lives, careers on hold; sacrificing their comfort and all; AND doing fundraising appeals- for the privilege of being able to minister to you (and yes, it is a privilege).
And while we’re at it – we can’t forget Mary our Office Manager and Pastoral Associate. She’s a highly intelligent, gifted women who’s been successful in the world, worked in the garment industry, has her own family- and she’s here…. Look (or listen) to Bruce our Music Director, he too has his own family. The guy’s so talented and joyful as a musician – he could be working anywhere and he’s here – every Sunday night for this his third year.
Me, well, the Archbishop sent me, I didn’t have a choice. Just kidding – you know (or I hope you know) how much I love you guys and love being here.
Yes it’s 12:45 in the morning on Friday and all of this is dawning on me. It’s so obvious, that I take it for granted. We can take it for granted – not only how blessed we are. But even more, the living witnesses we have to what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.
Because when we hear and read this Gospel where Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” – it’s a little unfathomable. It becomes a nice pious sentiment. It’s a beautiful ideal that the Gospel presents that we hear every so often – but it’s not really real to us. Maybe – we will call to mind Mother Teresa as an example of someone who did that and while that’s an accurate one, she cannot be the only one – and she’s not. Which is why it’s good for us to take a moment to look around. Not in an awards-style ceremony where we acknowledge achievement, but in a more personal, loving way at our own everyday examples.
Simply for us to take a moment and recognize – living the Gospel, right here, right now is possible. Is it difficult? Absolutely. But it’s also life-giving; life altering; radical; and utterly amazing as we see what is possible when we allow Jesus to take the wheel, as we put aside our wants and desires, as we in a sense learn and practice what true love is – something that seems more and more foreign, rare, unknown to people in this day and age.
That’s why as we keep reading this Gospel of Mark, something sticks out. It’s more and more obvious that the apostles haven’t a clue what Jesus is talking about. Sure they’ve been with him for years by this point. More than a couple of times, they have heard him predict his passion and death. More than a couple of times they’ve heard him explain what “greatness” in the kingdom of God means.
None of it will make sense though until the Cross. As Jesus dies on that cross, pours out his entire life for humanity – then everything will click for them. No, just as he had been saying over and over, Jesus will not be conquering the Romans with armies of people raising arms against one another in a war-time battle. Jesus’ battle will be won one heart at a time. And the first ones that will finally be conquered are those of the apostles who will be able to start living the life that Jesus has called them to. Some better at it than others, but at least trying each day to get up, hear his voice and respond…
And it’s been the same ever since. People still try to do the same thing each day. So when we look around us here, no these people are not saints … They’re just like you guys. They are people, who are Catholic Christians. Some went to Catholic School. Some had awful CCD classes. Some have really devout Catholic Families. Some have families who haven’t a clue why they are doing what they are doing. All of them could be doing better (financially, at least, and in other ways the world deems important) than they are doing by being here – as a part of the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry here at Montclair State University.
Yet they happily, joyfully serve here. Why? Because the voice of Jesus in today’s Gospel resonates in their hearts and souls — whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first must be the slave of all.
Where are you in that line? How is Jesus calling you?
What pops into your head, that you immediately shake your head about and say, “Nah – I could never do that for Christ, for others – that’s a crazy thought”? Is it a call to be a priest or a religious? Is it some career of service that may not be as financially successful or significant in stature to the world, but the thought of it brings joy to your heart in a way that nothing else does? Maybe it’s just an invitation to grow closer to Jesus and one another right here, right now in a smaller but meaningful way – community service, bible studies… How is Jesus trying to conquer your heart so that you can help him win over someone else’s? How can you become a servant to all? It may be crazy, at least in the view of the world, but, done lovingly, with God, all things are possible.