Hi everyone, this is my homily for SEPTEMBER 9, 2018 – the 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090918.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim Chern
So everyone is back to school… A week ago, I hesitated to point that out as both students and teachers were holding onto those last moments of summer as desperately as they could. I had learned to keep away from the topic 2 weeks ago when I asked my 6 year old niece about her getting ready for the new academic year and she practically growled at me about it. But now that those first days are done and over, it’s safe to acknowledge the obvious.
To mark the Back to School season, there was an article that celebrated teachers, specifically 8 teachers the author identified as individuals who demonstrated that “you don’t need an endless amount of money and vast resources to help others, a generous heart and steely determination are more than enough to start bringing a substantial change.” She highlighted an English teacher who found that her classroom didn’t have enough equipment to teach her students, so she sold her jewelry to purchase a new smartboard and some new furniture for the kids. Or another school teacher in India who has received frequent death and rape threats because the school is being run in a Hindu temple and they offer free education, including a few Muslim students who are also a part of her class. Even after local authorities refused to help her, this brave woman goes in every day despite those threats because she feels morally responsible to do her bit for these disadvantaged children. Or a physical education teacher whose district couldn’t afford funding for a bus driver, so he volunteered to do it to assure that the drop out rate among students wouldn’t increase simply because they didn’t have an easy way to get to school.
It was beautiful reading these stories that celebrated teachers. Coming from a family of teachers (My Mom, both my brothers and my sister in law all taught/teach in public schools) I’ve heard first hand how challenging a job it can be, I’ve been able to see for myself how often they put in extra hours. It truly is a unique profession where I think it’s more of the rule than the exception that teachers often go over and above their duties, they often exceed expectations and the specifications of their contracts; more often then not, they go out of their way to serve their students. Going out of your way – after reading that story and thinking about it, I had that phrase in my mind all week. Think about when that happens, when someone goes out of their way for you – the effect that can have. When a doctor makes a house call, or a nurse is overly caring and attentive to the person suffering an illness when they are patient and understanding to the families questions – we see that as “going out of their way” and it can change our perception of the medical profession. When an athlete goes out of their way and decides to take their fame, their financial wealth and decides to start a charitable foundation, we look at athletes differently.
Going out of your way. How often do we think that God does that for us? Do we perceive that? Or do we see him as distant, removed from us? For me, I know I can go from times where Jesus seems intimately close and real – and times where it seems He isn’t. It seems He isn’t. That’s my perception that’s off, that’s my sinfulness that causes it, or just my not giving the Lord some space and time to speak into my life. Because in Jesus Christ, we have learned that our God is a God who constantly goes out of His way for each of us. But so often we miss it or don’t recognize it.
Like in this Gospel we just heard. If you’re like me on first reading it, you’re like “ok, cool another Jesus miracle story… nice. It’s nice he took care of this deaf and mute guy.” Not being biblical scholars we might have missed a little nugget that St. Mark threw in there. At the very beginning of the passage we hear Jesus left Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee. A friend who, unlike me is a biblical scholar and who has visited the Holy Land numerous times had mentioned that this journey was completely out of the way. It was an indirect route that would’ve meant Jesus would have had to travel for weeks (possibly months) just to reach this place.
We don’t know for certain why Jesus goes out of His way to this next stop on His journey. But for the apostles and disciples who witnessed all of this first hand and recounted it, what was obvious was that after that lengthy trip, what Jesus does. He cures this man’s affliction. But not in any ordinary miraculous way. Probably, as we heard those details today, we kind of thought “gross” as Jesus puts his fingers in the guys ears and spitting, touching his tongue as He restores the man’s hearing and speech. Why was that? I mean, we’ve heard stories of Jesus feeding over 5000 with a few loaves and fishes – water being turned into wine – people being brought back from the dead simply with Jesus’ words being spoken. So it’s not like Jesus had to perform this miracle in this way.
But maybe Jesus was going out of his way to reach out to this man to reveal in an intensely personal and intimate way – through the gentle touch for a man who couldn’t hear of speak:
God thinks about you.
God sees you.
God knows the pains, the weaknesses, the brokenness you’re suffering from.
God dreams of your perfect joy and fulfillment.
God desires your fullness of life – here and now and for all eternity.
God loves you.
God goes out of his way this one day to say all this and confirm all of this in these amazing miracles to this one man. God went out of his way on the Cross to say that to all humanity. The sad reality is that this is a message that many don’t feel, don’t recognize, or maybe don’t even really believe in. Maybe that experience of Jesus seems removed or forgotten. Maybe you’re going through a really rough time right now that makes it hard to believe, to remember or perceive these things about God. Maybe the stories of scandal and corruption in the Church has been such a blow to your faith that it makes believing in anything a challenge. For those of us finding ourselves in that space, Jesus is coming for you. He does not abandon us – but what is key is that we have to keep looking for Him, waiting on Him. Jesus’ already went to Hell and back for us. And He’s promised us that Hell won’t prevail against His Church, despite the failings and failures of those who were supposed to act in His name.
And that’s where Jesus is counting on those of us whose hearing and speech he has already touched to go out of our way for those who are suffering, who are skeptical, who are troubled by doubts. In that reality, this whole story of Jesus’ indirect route to this place, and the miracle he performs reminds us that discipleship calls each of us to go out of our way and to listen and to speak out.
To listen to people’s pain. To listen to their fears. To listen to their doubts. To listen to their cries. To listen to our own. To listen to Jesus… To listen to Him in prayer… To listen to Him with the ears of our hearts so that we can then speak… Speak words of truth, Speak words of justice, of accountability. Speak words of forgiveness, of healing… of God’s eternal, unwavering, selfless, unconditional love.
I think that’s what angers me the second most about the scandal the Church finds herself in. The first is that these men could prey on the most innocent among us, unopposed for so long… that criminals masqueraded themselves as pastors of souls. That’s the first thing that has a fury burning within me that I can’t fully articulate. But the second thing that angers me is that this scandal has distracted, has inhibited our ability to do all that listening and to speak those words of eternal consequence for each and everyone of our souls. And that is why it is essential that we rid the Church of this evil as best as we can and moving forward, be honest, be accountable, be straightforward that when someone else in leadership sins so grievously – that we don’t continue this awful cycle.
Life is challenging enough… the world is broken enough – that it’s unacceptable for us as the Church not to be on our game and doing what Jesus had commanded us to do: to Go out to all the world and proclaim His Good News, His Gospel to the very ends of the earth. Even more urgently, to be about the work of re-proclaiming that Good News right here, in this corner of the earth… Despite this filth that has diminished His Church; despite the failures of so many within the Church to rid it – my hope and all of our hope has to be fixed solely on Jesus. He who has made known to us, the God who constantly, goes out of His way for each of us… to show each and everyone of us the Way...the Truth…the Life that is found in Jesus Christ.