The last few weeks have presented more opportunities than usual for me to be with people outside the ages of 18-24 in a variety of contexts and engagements – whether they were funeral repasts, wedding receptions, testimonials, to just casual get together with family and friends.  I’m so used to hearing different causes of anxiety and even depression from college students that I have to admit that it’s been a bit discomforting hearing how those feelings seem widespread outside that age demographic that I’m used to ministering on a daily basis.  I don’t know how many conversations had phrases like: “Things can’t get any worse” “I don’t ever remember a time when things seemed to be spinning out of control to the extent that they are right now” “We’ve hit rock bottom…or at least I hope so.”   Those sentiments kind of verified things I was seeing online a great deal (but often dismissed as most of what we see on social media we need to take with a grain of salt)  There’s an old saying that comes to mind that goes “there are no atheists in foxholes.”  I’ve found that even the individual with the most lukewarm of faith – seems to be crying out to God.  For example, a friend from high school shared a video of women viciously attacking workers at a fast-food restaurant in NYC when they were told that the cost of something was actually $1.75 more.  Seriously it looked like a riot was going to break out as they jumped the counter, threw things at the employees, and knocked over a whole bunch of things in the restaurant.   This individual who had shared this video, in the past had made all kinds of snarky comments about people who believe in God and religion in general simply posted this video saying “God help us.” there are no atheists in foxholes…

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -July 10, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

There’s sadly no shortage of things unnerving people and breeding these feelings of anxiety: is it an increase in crime – with the most recent examples of violence and death in shootings on the 4th of July in Philadelphia or outside of Chicago?  Is it trying to navigate economic uncertainties?  I shared with my brothers my own stupidity about the gas prices. For the first time in my life, I ran out of gas on Route 46 at 5:00 PM Friday as I was en route to a gas station only 2 miles away that was .25 cents less a gallon and thought I had enough to get there, so I can relate with you on that one.  Is it just the ongoing culture, and societal wars where you are being bullied and labeled all kinds of things for saying there are only two genders or that life begins at conception?  Is it the ongoing war in Ukraine?  Or other tensions we see in Europe among Dutch, German, and Italian farmers?  The Assassination of the former Japanese Prime Minister on Friday?

There seems just no end to bad news that after people are done blaming everyone, everything we’re simply united wanting someone or something to “stop it.”  Where the lukewarm and the faithful person are united saying “God Help Us.”

In His goodness – He always does.  These things that we’re experiencing that trouble us are not God punishing us.  Or signs that He’s abandoned us.  But He does treat us with the respect of being His own – made in His image and likeness and expects us to act in that manner.

That’s what really resonated in that first reading today from Deuteronomy.   We hear this address from Moses to the people – it’s coming near the end of Moses’ life on earth, after having been blessed with encountering God, being in communion with Him face to face for 40 years, and being charged to lead God’s people, we hear a piece of what would be Moses’ final words to the people.   And those words transcend time and space: IF ONLY YOU WOULD HEED THE VOICE OF THE LORD, YOUR GOD.

If only.

The desires for peace, for relief, for justice, for order – that’s never going to come about by us doing whatever it is we like, whenever it is we feel like it – whether that “we” is defined as nations, governments or Church leaders, or just us as collective individuals.  Those desires are good ones – but the only way that we can say, that something is  “good” is by recognizing there are objective truths, that there are “rights and wrongs” that God desires what is Good, what promotes Life.    Just saying those things are deemed “controversial” by many loud and angry voices in our world today.  We’ve been told to “do what’s right for you” or “who are you to tell me what’s right or wrong.”   Heck, we have people still screaming that “life” and what constitutes living is something up for negotiation and none of anyone else’s business.

Like the Jews first hearing Moses speaking to them at a perilous time of their history over 3,000 years ago, speaking to a crowd experiencing fear, anxiety, worry on a whole host of issues…  The advice Moses gives hasn’t changed: Keep His commandments and statutes – return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul.

To be sure, that’s not an easy thing to do, even for the most faithful of people with knowledge of those commands.  Not to throw him under the bus, but our friend Moses who’s the one speaking these words from scripture today would find himself failing in some significant ways when it came to listening, and following God’s commands.  In fact, it’s the result of him failing in this regard that will prevent him from making it to the promised land himself.  The people will but without Moses.  The best that he can hope for is that the Lord allows him a glimpse of that land before his death.

But notice that Moses did not turn bitter about that.  He’s not sulking, claiming it’s not fair.  He’s not pointing out how much he’s been faithful in comparison to the people he’s had to lead who’ve failed time and time again arguing that he should get to go into the promised land rather than the people.  None of that deflection, justification that we could hear others or sometimes even ourselves argue as we navigate our way through difficult times now.  Moses recognizes that the predicament he’s in – that he’s near death and won’t make it to see the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of the entire people of God at that moment was his own fault.  Had he just listened and followed what God had said.  But he reflects on that not in anger, or bitterness, but in truth.  God is good.  God is loving and has provided and cared intimately for His creation, including Moses – even in his failures.  This is why it’s not a threat but sage advice this father in faith is passing down: IF ONLY YOU WOULD HEED THE VOICE OF THE LORD YOUR GOD – keep His commandments with all your heart and soul.

Jesus masterfully expands on that in one of the most popular Gospel parables of “the Good Samaritan.”  Its tempting, particularly in this day and age, as we think back to all the things that trouble and disturb us to engage in some character-association game where we imagine others to be those who fail so spectacularly to care for this poor man and tell ourselves that we are either the hero or the victim.  The oil companies are the priest walking past the beaten-down consumer…  The clueless politician is the Levite who crosses the street trying to pretend they don’t hear or see the pain that their constituent is experiencing.   And telling ourselves that any act of kindness, decency, or even fulfilling the most basic of expectations somehow makes us the Good Samaritan.  But that misses the point completely.

The reality is that this nameless “scholar of the law” is meant to be all of us.  Notice he has knowledge of God’s law.  He’s heard and learned enough by now to know what it is that God expects.  And even more, he recognizes the authority of Jesus that he goes to Him.  The problem is that as this scholar of the law is navigating his way through the world of his day and age, as he hears and sees things that understandably frighten, anger, and disturb him, he is tempted or perhaps is committing acts that continue that downward spiral.  Whether it’s racists’ thoughts towards people different from him – the Romans, the Samaritans… Maybe it’s self-righteous thoughts where he imagines himself to be a better Jew than others in his own religion.  Whatever it is, St. Luke captures how Jesus sees the heart and gets to the heart of the matter, the scholar comes looking to “justify himself.”  That’s very different than coming before God, recognizing the things that fear, discourage, and trouble, and asking “Lord, things are a mess, how have I contributed to it being this way and what can I do to help make it better?”

Like the scholar of the law, we come with no shortage of things that are on our hearts and minds that weigh us down from around the world, in our nation and our Church, and in our own families our own lives.  Like the scholar of the law, we are blessed with some knowledge of God’s law and commands and awareness of Jesus’ authority.  And God in His love and mercy rejoices in those realities, that we come to Him and share with Him all that troubles and unsettles us.  But this isn’t a complaint department or customer feedback line where we are meant to drop off our issues, lodge our grievances and go back to doing our own thing.  We’re not here to affirm ourselves in our goodness in the midst of a screwed-up nation or world.  We’re not here to justify ourselves but rather to have our hearts and minds re-ordered to make sure that we are being justified by God.  Recognizing that only when each of us allows that to happen, that we can start to address all that is wrong with the world in the place and space where we can have the most responsibility and the greatest potential of helping to turn things around – within ourselves…