Five Fundamental Freedoms for the Christian Evangelizer: A Meditation on the Gospel of the 15th Sunday of the Year

One of the great obstacles to effectively evangelizing is that most Christians lack the requisite freedom and simplicity of life to carry forth the task consistently and coherently. In today’s Gospel the Lord offers some counsel on what is required to effectively evangelize.

As we read a gospel like this, it is tempting to think it speaks only of specialists such as missionaries, religious, priests or deacons, or others with specialized calls. But such a presumption forgets that everyone is called to evangelize: clergy to people, parents to children, elders to youngsters, sibling to sibling, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor.

Thus this gospel is for all of us, and it summons us to a greater freedom that will equip, empower and enable us to more effectively evangelize. Let’s look at the Lord’s counsels:

I. The Freedom of SUMMONS – The text says Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.

It may not seem immediately obvious how a summons is freeing, but consider that, to the degree that we know we are called to do something by someone in authority, we are often more courageous and diligent in doing it, even if it is hard. A commanding officer may have to ask the troops under him to engage in a difficult battle, but to the degree that he knows his own commanders have ordered it and that it is part of a wider strategy, he goes to his troops and rallies the troops. He speaks not only with his own authority but that of others, and thus he is courageous and his words have weight. And even if his troops protest or seem unenthusiastic, he remains strong because he knows his duty and is doing what is right.

Yes, being under a summons is freeing and empowering. And so for us, if we know that the Lord has summoned and sent us to evangelize, and he surely has (cf Matt 28:19) we can go forth with courage to muster and rally God’s people and summon them to the Lord’s team. And even when people react poorly we need not be discouraged, for we know we are under orders of God himself and that what we speak is right.

As a priest I am often called to speak on topics that some do not want to hear. And yet, to the degree that I know I have called to speak it, I do so with courage, knowing that, when the Lord and his Church bid me to address it I speak not only with my own authority but that of God. Some may grumble that they don’t want to hear me speak of money, or abortion, or religious liberty, or homosexual sin or heterosexual sin…. Yet to the degree that I know I AM called to speak on these things I still do them and do them with courage. Yes, I am summoned: I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! …for God has given me this sacred trust. (1 Cor 9:17).

Do you know you have been summoned? Have you experienced this call? Do you see it as a mandate, as something you have been summoned to do? Priests and deacons need to recognize our call to preach the Word of God unambiguously. We are under orders from the Lord. As Scripture says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:1-2) But honestly, can any of you who are parents and grandparents not see that you are called to the same for your children? And who of us here can say any but perhaps the youngest are exempt from the summons to preach, to declare the word of God.

Knowing and experiencing that you have been summoned is freeing!

II. The Freedom of SIMPLICITY – The text says:  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.

One the most fundamental reason that people do not evangelize is that we have way too much baggage. What kind of baggage?  Consider that our lives are:

1. CLUTTERED – Too much stuff. And stuff needs attention, maintenance, money, it takes up space and ties us down. We also have the baggage and clutter of too many commitments. We’re over scheduled, over booked, and have many wrongful priorities where we spend too much time worrying about things that don’t matter all that much in the end. And what does matter gets put on hold. Reading Bible stories to your kids?? No time for that we’ve got to get to soccer practice!  Yes, our lives are cluttered with the excess baggage of too many distractions. And what is a “dis-traction?” It is something that gets you off track and makes you loose traction in what really matters.

2. COMPLEX – Most of our lives are so cluttered and choked with excess baggage we don’t even know where to begin to simply it. We don’t know how to break the cycle, how to say no, So we end up carrying all this baggage, all this stuff and are quite enslaved to its demands.

3. COMPROMISED – and all this extra baggage weighs us down and entangles us with the world. Thus, our values are not the values of the gospel. Instead, we are tied down to the world, loyal to it, and invested in its thinking and ways.

We need to be free to preach the Gospel and evangelize. So the Lord says, simplify! Too much obsession with money, food, clothes and boxes of stuff, popularity, and fitting in, will hinder you.

Think of a runner in a race. He does one thing and carries nothing extra that would weigh him down. Travelers too do not take their whole house with them, only what is necessary. And, in terms of this world, we are just traveling through.

Most of  just have too much stuff, and because of this we are tied to this world lack the kind of freedom necessary to prophetically witness to what is beyond this passing world. Ask the Lord to help you gently but persistently simplify your life so that it increasingly becomes about the one thing necessary.

III. The Freedom of STABILITY – The text says,  He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.

Stability is the freedom to accept what is and work with it rather than to be constantly looking for something better. It is the freedom to bloom where you are planted and use what God actually gives, rather than to wait for something better.

There’s a real freedom to staying put and developing the deeper relationships that are usually necessary for evangelization to be effective and lasting.

One of the bigger problems with handing on the faith today is that there is very little stability in families, communities, and parishes. When things and people are passing and ephemeral, how can values rooted in lasting things be inculcated?

Preaching the gospel often depends on deep, well founded relationships, patience, perseverance, and taking the long view of life. Running here and there and living life only on the surface will not cut it. Shallow soil does not sustain taller growth. Only deep roots can do that.

Ask for the freedom to stay put and to be less anxious about the possibility that there may be a better job, a better community, a better deal out there somewhere. There is a value in being grateful for what you have and working with that, setting down deep roots and lasting relationship. This is the deeper and richer soil where evangelization can happen.

IV. The Freedom of SURETY – The text says – Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.

Here is one of the greatest freedoms of all, the gift to be free of our obsession with being liked, approved and popular. Too often we are overly concerned with being popular. We care too much about what others think, at the expense of the truth of the gospel.

In effect Jesus implies here that rejection will surely happen and when it does, shake it off, let it pass over you. Speak the truth and don’t worry about rejection. Expect it! This is a very great freedom.

Too many parents are too desperate to have their children like them and accept them. They avoid the difficult teachings and discipline. It is necessary to be free of this “need” and the Lord can give that to you.

It is true that we are not speaking here of becoming sociopaths caring not one wit what others think. This is not an invitation to be rude or impolite, or to fail to groom ourselves and be presentable. Rather it is an invitation to be free of our obsession with popularity so that we can shake off the rejection of the gospel we will inevitably experience. And again, the Lord can give that to us.

V. The Freedom of SUBSTANCE – The text says –  So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

There is a freedom in knowing what to say and what to do. And this freedom flows from the first one about, that of SUMMONS. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Crucified and this is freeing, for we cannot be compelled to change or adapt the message that has already been set for us. There is a freedom in sticking to the message proclaimed once and for all. The world demands compromise, and that certain passages of scripture be modified. But we, who in no way can do this, are free of such compulsion.

Only those who are enslaved to the times and mentality of this world can be so compelled. But to the degree that we know we are summoned, sent and given the substance of what to preach, we are free to announce, and free from coercion to compromise.

And substance was “repentance.” As we have noted before, the Greek word here: μετανοῶσιν (metanoosin) means more than simply to clean up ones behavior. It means, most literally “to come to a new mind,” or “to change your thinking.” Hence the evangelizer seeks to appeal to the whole person. It is not only important how a person behaves, it is also important how they think, and what is taking place in the deepest part of their soul.

Therefore the Lord seeks to heal the whole person from the inside out. Thus the Apostles and those of us free enough to be true evangelizes are not merely seeking to inform but to transform.

And note how the text describes them as driving out demons and curing the sick. Is this merely some exotic ability of the early apostles? No. We too, by this proclamation, drive out the demons of sadness, meaninglessness, ignorance, misplaced priorities, atheism, agnosticism, worldliness, materialism and so forth. We also bring healing and peace for those accept the power of the word of God in to their life. These healings are very real. I know them in my own life and have seen them in others.

Are you free enough to evangelize, to preach the gospel, to bring healing and peace to others? Are you free enough to be a means of God’s transformative Word?

 

Poor Preaching Isn’t Only Due to the Preacher – A Homily For the 14th Sunday of the Year

The gospel today portrays the Lord Jesus as preacher and prophet, but even the greatest preacher in the world, Jesus, can find His powerful and precious words falling lifeless on the rock-hard surface of many a soul. Yes, even His words can meet with resistance and hostility, indifference and ridicule. Indeed, the gospel today shows the ruinous result of rejection.

My formal homily notes begin with the red text below, but first I’d like to provide some background reflections that may prove helpful.

We sometimes think that if only Catholic priests were better preachers, all would be well, but that is only half the battle. The Catholic faithful must also have ears to hear and hearts that are open and eager to receive the truth. A well-known preacher and fine Protestant teacher, William Barclay, has this to say:

There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. Our churches would be different places if congregations would only remember that they preach far more than half the sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy, the poorest effort can catch fire. In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference the most spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the earth (Commentary on Mark, p. 140).

Yes, of this I am a witness. I have preached before congregations that were expectant and supportive, and saw my feeble words catch fire. I have also preached in settings where “I couldn’t hear nobody pray.” And oh, the difference!

I have been blessed to serve most of my priesthood in African-American parishes, where there is a deep appreciation that the preaching moment is a shared one, with shared responsibilities. The congregation does not consider itself a passive recipient of the Word, but rather an active sharer in the proclamation.

There is an air of expectancy as the faithful gather and listen and begin to sing and pray. This air of expectancy is sometimes called “the hum.” During the reading of the Word and the sermon there are nods. Hands may go up, a foot may stomp, and an acclamation or two fill the air: Amen! Yes, Lord! Go on now! Take your time! Make it plain, preacher! You don’t need to tell me! My, my, my!

As a preacher, I too can call for help: Are you praying with me Church? Somebody ought to say, Amen! Come on, can I get a witness? It’s kinda quiet in here today; can I get an Amen? Yes, together we craft the message, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. While it belongs to the priest to craft the content, it belongs to the congregation to affirm the truth and acknowledge the Spirit through prayerful attention and support.

The preaching task is both precious and necessary, but it involves more than just the preacher.

Pope St. Gregory the Great also says this:

Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.

For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly.

With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock [Ibid].

Note well, then, the shared responsibility of the preacher and the people. Let these texts serve as a worthy background to what is now to come in today’s gospel, which we can see in three stages.

I.  Real Rejoicing The text says, Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!”

Thus, the initial reaction of Jesus’ hometown crowd is positive. They are filled with amazement and joy. The text sets forth two sources of their joy:

His wise words – Many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?” Yes, what a blessing it must have been to hear Jesus preach. And boy, could Jesus preach! Scripture says of His preaching,

  • And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
  • Sent to arrest him the temple guard returned empty handed saying: No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).
  • And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
  • And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

His wonderful works – They also say, “What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” Yes, Jesus had worked many miracles up to this point. He had

  • cast out demons,
  • turned water to wine,
  • raised up paralytics,
  • cured the man with a withered hand,
  • cast out blindness,
  • healed deafness,
  • multiplied loaves and fishes,
  • calmed storms, and
  • raised up Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

And so we see that the initial reaction to Jesus preaching is good. Their remarks and rejoicing are a sign that the Spirit is working and prompting them to belief.

Things are about to turn sour, however. The Word of God can fall on the rocky soil of hearts, where it springs up but soon withers because the soil is so shallow. Or His Word can be sown on the paths of hearts where the birds of the sky come and carry it off. Or the Word of the Lord can fall on divided hearts, where the thorns of worldliness and the anxieties of the world choke it off. And sometimes it falls on good soil, where it yields thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold (cf Matt 13:1-9).

II. Rude Rejection – The text says, [But some began to say] Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Notice how sudden their change is. There is an old spiritual that says, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!”

They harden their hearts. Yes, the tide mysteriously and suddenly turns against Jesus. Sin has set in and hearts have hardened; the joy has been jettisoned. Though the Holy Spirit prompts them to faith and to call Jesus, “Lord,” they harden their hearts. It is a grim and tragic sin.

They also exhibit a kind of prejudice or unjust discrimination, dismissing Jesus as a mere carpenter and a “hometown boy.” It is odd that the poor and oppressed sometimes take up the voice of the oppressor. Thus, these simple people from a small town of only 300 take up the voice of the Jerusalemites, who regarded Galileans as “poor backwoods clowns” and as unlettered people. Yes, Jesus’ own townsfolk take up the voice of the oppressor and say to Him, in effect, “Stay in your place. You have no business being smart, talented, wise, or great. You’re just one of us and should amount to nothing.” It is the same sort of tragic rebuke that sometimes takes place among minority students who excel in school, when some of their fellow minority students accuse them of “going white.” It’s tragic.

They also exhibit the sin of envy. Envy is sadness or anger at the goodness or excellence of another person because we take it as diminishing our own. The text says, And they took offense at him. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin. This is because it seeks not to possess the good of another (as jealousy does), but rather to destroy what is good in others so that the destroyer can look better.

The result of these sins was that Nazareth was not a place where excellence was known, even among its own! Indeed, John 1:46 records Nathanael saying of Nazareth, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” It would seem that even the townsfolk of Nazareth would agree! (But Philip, who surrendered his prejudice, said to Nathanael, “Come and see.”)

But an even more awful result of these sins ensues.

III. Ruinous Result – The text says, Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Because they judge Him to be nothing, they get nothing. They have blocked their blessings.

Jesus says, He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Mat 10:41). When we banish or discredit God, however, we should not expect to see many of His works. These things come only from faith.

Miracles are the result of faith, not the cause of it. Thus, the text says, So [Jesus] was not able to perform any mighty deed there … He was amazed at their lack of faith.

There are some things that even God can’t do, not because He lacks the power but because He respects our choices. Pay attention. The Lord is offering us salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven. Either we reach out to take it or we don’t, but the choice is ours. If we take it, He’ll go to work, but if we refuse, He respects our freedom and will “not be able” to perform any mighty deeds.

What a ruinous result for Nazareth and for all who reject the prophetic utterances of our Lord and His saving help. Scripture says,

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes. Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last for ever. I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:10-16).

Either we accept God’s word and yield to its healing and saving power or we can expect little or nothing but ultimate ruin. It is as if we are in a raging stream heading toward the falls and almost certain death, but then a hand is stretched out to save us—the hand of Jesus. Mysteriously, we reject that hand and ridicule its power. The ruinous result of our hideous and foolish rejection is our death. The text says, He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Pay attention! God is preaching the Word to you every Sunday—every day, in fact. Will you heed and be healed? Will you receive and be rescued? Or will you reject and be ruined? Will the Lord be able to do mighty deeds for you? Or will He be amazed at your lack of faith? The choice is yours; it is all yours.

What of our nation, once steeped in the Word of God? The Founding Fathers once wove Scripture freely into their discourse, but in recent decades a hostile secularism has insisted on marginalizing all references to God and scoffing at biblical morality. They talk “tolerance” yet file lawsuits against those who would dare speak of God, display a nativity, or call something a sin. There is no room in this post to present statistics that show our blessings ebbing away, but it is clear that as our families disintegrate, a nation that once led the world in almost every respect is now well back in the pack and fading fast. To forsake the preaching of Christ though His Scripture and His Church is to forfeit blessings. He can work no miracles here because of our lack of faith.

Even Jesus can have a bad day in the pulpit, but it is not really His bad day—it is ours. If we sinfully reject the Word of God, it is we who will forfeit blessings and miracles because of our lack of faith.

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The Journey of Jairus – A Homily for the 13th Sunday of the Year

Today’s Gospel today focuses on a man named Jairus and a journey he makes from despair to deliverance, with the help of Jesus. Of course, Jairus is not merely a synagogue official who lived two thousand years ago; you are Jairus and his journey is your journey. We also meet a woman whom the Lord points out as an exemplar of faith. If you are ready to accept it, she can be you.

Let’s observe this gospel in six stages, as Jairus makes his journey.

I. TRIAL – The text says, When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

Jairus is going through a crisis, a great trial. Most of us have had similar experiences. Perhaps it was the grave illness of a loved one. Perhaps it was the loss of our job. Perhaps it was the effects of a natural disaster. Perhaps it was simply the fear of some catastrophe.

In his crisis, Jairus seeks Christ. Falling to his knees, he pleads for help and healing for his beloved daughter.

Note that it is this very crisis that brings him to Jesus so prayerfully. While suffering remains a mystery, it sometimes takes suffering to bring us to Jesus. It should not be this way, but it often is. Even for regular church-goers, it sometimes takes a real crisis to make us finally cry out, “Lord, I really need you. I cannot survive without you!”

Thus Jairus, quite possibly a proud synagogue official, is now at Jesus’ feet pleading. What about us? Does it take this kind of calamity? Perhaps it does. For whatever purpose, God often allows suffering for a reason and for a season.

Jairus is now undergoing a trial, a test; but remember, there is a “test” in every testimony.

II. TARRYING – The text says, [Jesus] went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

Note that Jesus seems to tarry. He could have healed Jairus’ daughter instantly from right where He was (as He did with the centurion’s servant), but instead He says to Jairus, in effect, “Let’s journey together for a while.” The Lord delays the daughter’s healing and, as we shall see, this delay results in her death.

We, too, must often experience the Lord’s delay, for our crying out for healing and mercy does not often yield instant results. It is as if the Lord wants us to live with our questions and struggles for a while, as if He wants to walk with us on a journey of faith that requires waiting and watchful trust.

Such a delay is likely part of God’s plan to build our trust and faith, but whatever its cause, He often requires us to wait, to hold out. Gospel music is replete with such themes. One song says, “I promised the Lord that I would hold out. He said he’d meet me in Galilee.” Another says, “Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be all right.” Another says, “Keep your hand on the plow; hold on!” Yet another says, “Lord, help me to hold out until my change comes.”

The Lord walks with Jairus and with us, summoning us to a faith that holds out. Scripture says, Weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come with the morning light (Ps 30:3).

III. TESTIMONY – Along the way, the Lord arranges a lesson in trust for Jairus through the example of a woman of strong faith. The text says, There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to Jesus, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

Here is a woman of remarkable faith. She has come to a point in her life’s journey that she simply knows by faith that all she needs to do in order to be healed is to touch Jesus. Surely, she has come to this faith only through a long and painful journey, but she has come to this moment, and now she has the faith to be saved.

She touches Jesus.

Do not miss the significance of this touch; Jesus does not. Sensing the power of her faith, and that healing power has gone out from Him, He says, “Who touched me?” The disciples react with exasperation, in effect saying, “Lord, hundreds of people have been bumping up against you!” But Jesus did not ask who had brushed against Him; He asked, “Who touched me?” It is one thing to bump up against the Lord but quite another to touch Him in faith.

How many of us really touch God when we come to Mass? He speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word, but do we really hear Him? He touches us in Holy Communion, but do we touch Him? Do we really expect healing when we go to Mass? Do we really expect a healing touch? Or are we only going to be a face in the crowd bumping up against Jesus accidentally?

Many people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. When they take Tylenol, they expect something to happen. They expect their pain to go away; they expect to be healed. What do they expect when they receive Holy Communion? Often nothing.

What about you? Are you like the woman who touches Jesus expecting healing or like the crowd that just brushes past Him?

Jesus insists on stopping to meet this woman of faith. It may well be that He had Jairus in mind as He did so, as if to say, “Pay attention to this woman, Jairus. Do you see what her faith has gotten her? Do you believe, Jairus?” Into our own life, the Lord will often send those who can testify to us of faith and show us what faith can do.

Thus, on this journey, Jairus is given a witness to encourage his faith. Who are the witnesses in your life whom the Lord has sent?

IV. TEMPTATION – The text says, While [Jesus] was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”

During Jairus’ journey there is an encouraging testimony of what faith can do, but there are also temptations against faith and temptations to sink into despair and hopelessness.

What about us? We, too, must often confront a world that is largely negative.

Jairus is told by the negative ones that he should dismiss Jesus: “Why bother the teacher any more?” Yes, there are many in this world who not only have no hope themselves, but who also insist that we dismiss Jesus because they say He is irrelevant. Many secularists, themselves without hope, ridicule us who do and try to taunt us into dismissing the Lord from our journey.

This is a temptation that must be rejected.

V. TRUST – The text says, Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So, he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out.

To those who are negative and who ridicule, Jesus has this reaction: Then he put them all out.

Turning to Jairus, Jesus then says, Do not be afraid; just have faith. The command that we have faith is not merely an order; it is a dynamic principle. The same God who said, “Let there be light” —and there was light—now says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Trust and saving faith are possible for Jairus and for us.

One of the principal tasks for Jesus and His Holy Spirit is to grow faith within each of us. As this faith grows in us our victories become more and more evident. Scripture says,

      • For thus says the Lord God, the holy One of Israel, “By waiting and calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies …” (Is 30:15)
      • Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Is 40:30-31).
      • So, do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved (Heb 10:35-39).

The Lord Jesus commands faith in order to bring us reward.

VI. TRIUMPH – The text says, He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

Sure enough, Jairus’ journey with Jesus leads to victory—so will ours. It may not be the Lord’s will to raise every recently deceased relative, but He will surely give us the victory in every travail and difficulty. To those who die in Him, He will surely say, as He said to the little girl, “I say to you, arise!”

In every trial, if you are in the Lord and journeying with Him, I promise you complete victory in Jesus. In the face of every trial and distress, just say, “I’ll rise!”

In sufferings and sickness … “I’ll rise!”
In setbacks and sorrows … “I’ll rise!”
Tears in my eyes … “I’ll rise!”
Temptations against faith … “I’ll rise!”
No money in my pocket … “I’ll rise!”
Struggles with sin … “I’ll rise!”
On the rough side of the mountain … “I’ll rise!”
Though death is surely coming … “I’ll rise!”

Jairus has made a journey with Jesus, from trial to traveling with Him, through testimony and temptation to the empowering command to trust, and thereby unto triumph.

The journey of Jairus is our journey. His victory is ours if we journey with Jesus, as he did.

 

My New Radio Show: The Quest

Guadalupe Radio Network

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The Quest – A Pilgrimage of Faith New Episodes each weekday at 4 pm CT /5 pm ET. You can listen to the program LIVE on the Guadalupe Radio Network and on Facebook, Rumble, X, Instagram, or YouTube. Hosts: Msgr. Charles Pope, Steve Gleason, and Sarah Soto Producer: Matt Maloney

Hear the latest Episode Here: https://sites.libsyn.com/535067

 

Is John the Baptist Actually Elijah?

Is John the Baptist Elijah? Some of you who read this may think the question itself to be a crazy one. “What do you mean is John the Baptist Elijah?!” A little biblical background may help give meaning to the question. Let’s begin in the Old Testament.

Biblical Roots of the Question – On the very last pages of the Old Testament, in the Book of Malachi God both promises and warns that the great and terrible Day of the Lord’s coming was sure to be and that God’s people must be ready for the coming of Lord. It is such an awesome day that God declares he must prepare the people ahead of time by sending Elijah to prepare them. Here is the text:

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.  Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents;  lest I come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:1-6)

So Elijah , it is said, will come again, before the Lord, to prepare the people and save them from the wrath that will follow. Exactly how he will come, or in what form, is not specified. Will it literally be Elijah come back in the flaming chariot that took him up, or is it an allegorical, or figurative Elijah that God will send?

The Book of Sirach has a similar prophecy concerning Elijah’s return:

How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses. You were destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD, To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob. Blessed is he who shall have seen you and who falls asleep in your friendship(Sirach 48:9-11)

This text too lacks specificity as to how Elijah will come and in what form. However, it is directed specifically to Elijah, and that would seem to anticipate a personal return. But here too it is not certain.

These Old Testament Texts surely point to the type of ministry that John the Baptist was undertaking. He called them to repentance just before the Lord’s coming on the scene and thus prepared them to receive him. Although many thought John to be the actual Messiah his denial of being the Messiah caused others to wonder if he were Elijah. This question was specifically put to John by  priests and levites sent from the Jews in Jerusalem:

What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” (John 3:21)

But there is a problem with John’s answer, for Jesus answers quite differently regarding John’s identity.

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt 11:13-15)

As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist (Matt 17:10-13; cf also Mark 9:13)

So what are we to make of this seeming conflict between John’s denial and Christ’s affirmation of John’s status as Elijah?

One solution is merely to apply the saying in Latin: Nemo judex in sua causa (no one is a judge in his own case). It is not always possible for us to fully understand our role in God’s kingdom. God has something very specific and very important for all of us to do and we are not always able to fully see this here. In heaven, all will be made plain to us as to our role and place in God’s Kingdom. Hence, although  John the Baptist may not be able to fully see his role, Jesus as God, can and does know that role. So the seeming conflict is resolved in favor of Jesus teaching, for the reason stated. John the Baptist, as the Angel Gabriel said of him: “Will go before Him [The Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17).

However this is not the same as Jesus saying that John the Baptist is Elijah reincarnated, or Elijah come back from heaven whence he was  taken in a fiery chariot. We don’t need to interpret Jesus this literally. Jesus could well be saying that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the Elijah figure would return, and that he was  in the office or role of Elijah. We have already observed that the Old Testament texts do not specify the manner of Elijah’s “return.” We need not assume a physical return of Elijah. Rather, as Luke 1:17 implies, we can accept a return of the spirit of his mission, his role.

And this leads to a second and happier conclusion that John the Baptist’s  response that he is not Elijah may not, in fact be wrong or in conflict with the Lord’s teaching. It is possible that he interpreted the question literally to mean, “Are you Elijah come back to earth?” To which he rightfully says, “No.”  Jesus however speaks of him in terms of his role, calling him Elijah, not as a personal identification but in terms of  the role he had as the Elijah figure, promised of old.

Hence we are back to the question: Is John the Baptist Elijah? Well that does actually depend on what we mean by “is.” Is John Elijah come back to earth? Likely he is not! Is he Elijah in the sense of having the office of Elijah and going forth in the spirit and power of Elijah? Yes.

The Fathers of the Church generally confirm this approach to John the Baptist and his role as Elijah, not the actual Elijah. But some add a twist. The twist is that they interpret Malachi 4 (quoted above) as referring more to Jesus’ second coming than his first and hold out for a coming of the actual Elijah at that time. This helps explain the references in the Malachi passage to fire and burning judgment which pertain more to the Second Coming. It also helps explain why Jesus said to his disciples Elijah will indeed come (i.e. the actual Elijah, just prior to the Second Coming) and then adds, but I tell you Elijah has already come (i.e. figuratively in John the Baptist).

1.  St Jerome – That He says, This is Elijah, is figurative – (Quoted in the Catena Aurea)

2. St. JeromeSt. John the Baptist is called Elijah, not in accordance with foolish philosophers and certain heretics who introduce the topic of metemphychosis (transmigration of souls), but because, according to other evidence of the gospel, he came in the spirit and goodness of Elijah  and had either the same grace or power of the Holy Spirit. The austerity of their life and firm resolve were equally strong in Elijah and John. Both lived in the  desert. The former girded himself with a belt of skins, and the latter had a similar belt. The former was forced to flee because he accused Ahab and Jezebel of impiety in their lives. John was beheaded because he accused Herod and Herodias of unlawful marriage. There are those who think therefore that John is called Elijah because, just as Elijah would lead the way in the second coming of our Lord (according to Malachi) and would announce that the judge was coming, so John acted at the first coming. And because each was a messenger, either of the first or second coming of the Lord.  (Commentary on Matthew 2.11.15)

3. St. Jerome  – He then who at the Savior’s second coming will come in the truth of His body, comes now in John in power and spirit (Quoted in the Catena Aurea).

4. Remigius for He did not say that John was Elias in person, but in the Spirit (Quoted in the Catena Aurea)

5. St John ChrysostomFor the Scriptures speak of two comings of Christ; that which has taken place, and that which is yet to be. But the Scribes, blinding the people, spoke to them only of His second coming, and said, If this be the Christ, then should Elias have come before Him. Christ thus resolves the difficulty, He answered and said, Elias truly shall come, and restore all things; but I say to you, that Elias has already come. Think not that here is a contradiction in His speech, if He first say that Elias shall come, and then that he is come. For when He says that Elias shall come and restore all things, He speaks of Elias himself in his own proper person, who indeed shall restore all things, in that he shall correct the unbelief of the Jews, who shall then be to be found; and that is the turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, the hearts of the Jews to the Apostles. (Quoted in the Catena Aurea)

Well, as you can see, Scriptural interpretation is a careful matter that requires us to cover our desks with open books and references to other passages in the Scripture. As with many passages of Scripture there is a range of opinion and views. This article is a blog post. It is not a dissertation or an article in a theological journal. Hence, by nature it is incomplete. I invite comments to help complete the picture, and healthy (charitable) debate is encouraged.

The bottom line is that the strongest position is that John the Baptist is surely not the actual Elijah returned to earth. Rather he is an Elijah figure who takes up the ministry of Elijah in the Spirit and power. I also find the distinction of some of the Fathers helpful and compelling in seeing many of the details of Malachi 4 as referring to a return also of the actual Elijah just prior to the second coming. I do not claim this is a doctrine of the faith, only that the position is quite intriguing.

My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over – A Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

Lightening Storm
The gospel today is something of a storm journal, a kind of picture of the Christian life as we journey through a stormy world against winds contrary to the gospel. There are distinctive stages, beginning with the call of Jesus to cross to the other shore. But as we cross there are surely storms and difficulties that assail us. No matter, the charge to have and keep making the crossing remains the same. Let’s look in more detail at the stages of this gospel and see how the disciples get over to the other shore with Jesus.
I. It begins with the CALL of Jesus: Let us go across to the other side. This is not merely a call to cross an ancient lake 2,000 years ago. This summons echoes down to us individually today, as the call to journey to the other shore, to Heaven.
Such crossings are not uncommon in the Scriptures. The Jewish nation crossed the Red Sea, which God parted for them. They set out as pursued slaves, crossed over, and reached the other shore to enjoy the glorious freedom of the Children of God.  And then, too, they crossed the River Jordan to enter the promised land, which is a symbol of entering Heaven. Having made that crossing, they received their inheritance.
A lot of the old spirituals contain references to crossing to the other side as symbolic of the journey to Heaven:

Michael, row the boat a-shore Hallelujah!
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow Hallelujah!

Jordan’s river is deep and wide,
Meet my mother on the other side.

Jordan’s river is chilly and cold.
Chills the body, but not the soul.

Allow this call of Jesus, Let us go across to the other side, to be your summons to follow Him to Heaven. The disciples boarded a wooden boat to get to the other side. We cross to Heaven by the wood of the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ call and then set out! Heaven lies ahead, just over on the other shore!

II. Then comes the COMMENCEMENT: And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he wasIt is one thing to be called by Jesus to cross to the other shore. It is another thing to respond and set out with Him. And thus the second stage of this gospel depicts the required response: that one set out, or commence the journey.
Note three things that are said here about the commencement of the journey: they renounce, they receive and they respect.
A.  They Renounce – The text says they “leave the crowd.” We are called to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. In our Baptism we renounced the devil and by extension the world, of which he is prince. Scripture says, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4). Jesus says, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat 6:24). And yet again, I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).
Therefore the text says that they “leave the crowd.” They forsake the wide, popular road that leads to destruction and go out on the narrow way of the cross that leads to the other shore. You cannot have both Jesus and the world; you must choose. You cannot have the crowd and its values. Jesus warns, Woe to you when all speak well of you (Lk 6:26). We must be ready to leave the crowd, forsake popular ideas, and embrace the “foolishness” of the cross.
B. They Receive – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat.” That is, they receive Jesus into the “boat” that is their life. They agree to journey with Him, not the world. They let Him pilot their ship. In the baptismal liturgy not only do we renounce Satan and the pomps of the world, we also accept Christ and profess our belief in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and in the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Now Jesus enters the “boat” of our life and leads us in the crossing to the other shore. Jesus’ command is simple, “Follow me” (Jn 12:26; Lk 9:59; Mk 2:14; Mat 9:9; et alibi).
C. They respect – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was.” Even in the Greek, this text is a bit complex. What does it mean that they took Jesus in the boat “just as he was”? Many think that the text is trying to indicate that Jesus was in fact already in the boat. Thus a possible understanding is that they took Jesus with them in the boat because in fact he was already aboard.
Perhaps, but for our purposes here, let’s take the text less literally: to accept Jesus into our life just as He is means to place no conditions on His admittance. It is to accept the real Jesus, not some fake or refashioned Jesus. The real Jesus is complex. He sets impossible demands but then forgives the worst of sinners, He is kind and understanding one moment, but stern and refusing of any excuses the next. He consoles and challenges, affirms and unsettles.
Many today have attempted to remake Jesus into a kind of “harmless hippie” who told pleasant stories and went around blessing everyone. And while it is true that He blessed many, He was a stumbling block for others. Jesus was a master preacher and storyteller but He also warned in those stories that some were sheep and some were goats, some were wise and some were foolish, some were at the feast and others were cast out into the darkness, some heard “Come blessed of my Father” and others heard “I know you not, depart from me you evildoers.” And elsewhere Jesus warned, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24). So Jesus is complex and we must learn to accept Him into our lives “just as he is.” St. Paul lamented, For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached … you put up with it well enough (2 Cor 11:4). Learn of the real Jesus and accept Him just as He is.
So having taken Jesus into the boat, they commence the journey to the other shore. But the journey is not always smooth, for the waters of this world are choppy and the winds are contrary.
III. For indeed, next comes the CONCERN: And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. Here they are, the inevitable storms of life that will test and purify our faith. Such aspects of life often trouble us greatly.
Why does God permit such things? Why do they last so long? Why does God, who could instantly solve all things, allow trouble to go on?
He has His reasons, most of which are mysterious. However we can surely understand some of the ways in which trouble helps to purify and strengthen us. When we are in trouble we discover gifts we didn’t know we had; we gain wisdom; we learn detachment and humility. In living our questions we deepen our search and grow to appreciate the answers and the truth more. Trouble often brings maturity and helps us to hone our skills. No tension, no change. Trouble is also tied up in the freedom God allows His children. Some abuse their freedom and cause harm.
So we can get a small glimpse of why God permits trouble. Yet much is still mysterious.
Some people even notice that storms in their life increase rather than decrease after they begin to follow Christ! Well, take that as a compliment. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were traveling in a similar direction to Satan and so barely noticed him on the periphery. And then you turned around and ran right into him. Do not despair; you are still going in the right direction and Satan doesn’t like it.
Indeed another reason that those who set out on a voyage to cross the sea often encounter more storms than the “land-lovers” who stay back in mediocrity is that, frankly, there are more storms at sea.  The “sea” here is a symbol of the way of the cross as opposed to the wide road that leads to destruction (cf Mat 7:13). The way of the cross is bound to have special troubles, but the cross, though not comfortable, is necessary. Jesus says, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19). So again, take storms like these as a compliment, a sign you have set out with Christ across the deeper waters.
And thus this storm at sea is a picture of our life in this storm-tossed world. An old hymn says,
When the storms of live are raging stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
IV. But note the CALM of Jesus that brings peace to the others: But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In life it seldom helps to be in a panic. If you want to bring peace, you have to be at peace. Jesus is not unaware of the storm, but He is not alarmed by it. He is able to sleep through it just fine. In life, two people can be involved in the same incident and yet have very different experiences.
Some years ago I was out walking with a friend when a large dog, a Golden Labrador, came lumbering toward us. I had grown up with dogs and thus could tell the difference between a dog moving aggressively and one approaching benignly seeking merely to establish contact. But my friend had not grown up with dogs and in fact had been bitten by one as a youngster. Each of us looked at the dog approaching us. We saw the same scene but reacted to it very differently. My friend was afraid, while I was delighted. He reacted angrily and defensively. I put my hand out and greeted the dog, patting it on the head and letting it smell my hand. With my experience, I was able to bring peace to the situation. An agitated reaction might well have provoked the dog to turn aggressive.
And so we see something similar here in the boat. Jesus is able to sleep peacefully in the storm, but the disciples are panicked. Jesus knows His Father; He also knows the end of the story. Do you? Have you not read that for those who love and trust in the Lord all things work together for good? (cf Rom 8:28) Why are we so afraid? Storms will come and storms will go, but if we love God we will be saved, even if we die to this world.
If you have this peace, you too will calm storms. Peaceful people have an effect on others around them. We cannot give what we do not have. Ask the Lord for a heart that is at peace, not just for your own sake but for that of others. Because He is at peace, Jesus can rebuke the storm. How about you?
V. Finally, note the CHARGE:  “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
And thus it is that the Lord charges them to grow in faith so as to be at peace and to bring peace to others. How do we lay hold of this peace? By growing in our experience and in our wonder and awe at what the Lord can do, and by learning to trust that God is bigger than our storms and concerns. We also learn that some of the storms are actually to our benefit; they help to strengthen us, even speeding our journey along.
Faith is a way of knowing. And thus we who grow in it are less terrified of storms. We have come to experience how God delivers us and strengthens us, often in paradoxical ways, and that none of the things of this world can destroy us if we have faith.
In my own life I have made this part of the journey to greater faith. I used to be very anxious about many things. Today I am seldom anxious because I have learned by faith and experience that God is working His purposes out. Most of the things I was anxious about in the past turned out fine, or at the very least OK. And even the stunning blows contained secret gifts, hidden at the time, only to be revealed later. This is the knowing of faith, that brings calm in the storms of life.
So our charge is to have faith.
Here, then, is a quick sketch of our life as disciples. We hear the CALL of the Lord to set out. We COMMENCE our journey with Him. Whatever the CONCERNs or storms, we learn the CALM of Jesus and let it reach us by the CHARGE of faith.

If You Can Use Anything Lord, You Can Use Me – A Homily for the 11th Sunday of the Year

The readings for this Sunday speak of God’s providence, which is often displayed in humble, hidden, and mysterious ways. While it is true that God sometimes works in overpowering ways, His more common method seems to be using the humble and even unlikely things of the created order to accomplish His goals.

For us who are disciples, there are three related teachings given to us that speak of how God will make use of us and others. It is also good to link these teaching to Father’s Day, which occurs this weekend here in the U.S. These three teachings can be described as Adaptability, “Awe-Ability,” and Accountability.

ADAPTABILITY – In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, we hear how God can take something humble and adapt it to be something mighty and powerful.

The tender shoot of the first reading becomes a mighty oak: I [the Lord] will take from the crest of the cedar…a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. … It shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar (Ezekiel 17:22-23).

The mustard seed of the first reading which becomes a great shade tree: The … kingdom of God … is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade (Mk 4:32-33).

Yes, God adapts us for His purposes and no one should say, “I cannot be used.” An old song says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.” There’s a litany I’ve seen floating around the Internet that says,

The next time you think God can’t use you, remember

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses was murderer had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt and was depressed
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too argumentative
Timothy had an ulcer
and Lazarus was dead!

No excuses, then, God chooses the weak and makes them strong

In fact, it is often our very weakness that is the open door for God. In our strength we are usually too proud to be of any use to Him. Moses was too strong at age forty when he pridefully murdered a man, thinking he was doing both the Jews and God a favor. Only forty years later, at the age of eighty, was Moses weak and humble enough to depend on God. Only then could God use him.

We are invited in this principle to consider that it is not merely in the “biggie-wow” things we do that God can work. It is also in the humble and imperfect things about us—the mustard seed of faith, the tiny shoots, the humble growth—that God can magnify His power.

So, God can adapt even the humblest, most ordinary, lowliest things and from them bring forth might and lasting fruit. Never despair of what is most humble about you, or that you are of little account on the world’s stage. It is precisely our humble state that God most often uses to bring forth His greatest and most lasting works.

“AWE-ABILITY” – This is the capacity to reverence mystery and to have wonder and awe at what God does. In today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes that although a man plants seeds, he does not really know the deeper mysteries of life and growth:

This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how (Mk 4:26-27).

Despite our often-self-congratulatory celebration of our scientific prowess and of how much we know, there is much more that we neither know nor understand. We do well to maintain a reverential awe of the deeper mysteries of God’s works and His ways. We are also rather poor at assessing the effectiveness of our methods. We may come away from a project considering it to have been very effective, and yet little comes of it in the long run. Conversely, sometimes what we consider to have been an ineffective effort may bear great fruit. God works in His own ways and we do well to remember that He can surprise us, reminding us that He is able and is in charge.

Some years ago, a friend of mine had on her desk a “God can.” It was a metal cookie tin with the following saying on its lid: He worketh in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. Into this box she would place slips of papers on which were written the challenges, struggles, and failures of her life. When she reached the limits of her strengths and abilities, she would say, “I can’t, but God can.” So, into this metal “God can” went the slips of paper, placed there in the hope that God would make a way out of no way. Quite often He did.

We do well to cultivate a sense of wonder and awe at who God is and how He works. Not only does this bring us joy, but it also opens us to hope. It reminds us that God can work in hidden ways to exult what is humble and to bring great transformation to those who are cast down and troubled. As we saw in the “adaptability” section of this post, it is often in the humblest things that God performs His mightiest works.

ACCOUNTABILITY – If it is true that we can’t, but God can; if it is true that God can use us mightily despite our humble state, our weakness, and even our sinfulness; then there can be no excuse for not bearing fruit in our life. Each of us is accountable to the Lord for how we let Him use us and work through us to further His Kingdom.

The second reading reminds that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:9-10).

God is able to adapt and to work in wondrous and hidden ways to lift us up, even if we are humble and struggle. Given this capacity of God’s, we must one day render an account of how we have responded to God’s grace and His invitation to be used for His work.

On that day of judgment, the answer “I couldn’t” will ring hollow, because God can. Today’s readings remind us to be open to what God can do, often in mysterious ways, and even with the most humble things in our life.

Today is also Father’s Day, and so the following litany of resolution seems appropriate:

I DO solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.

I WILL love them, protect them, serve them, and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.

I WILL be faithful to my wife, to love and honor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.

I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength.

I WILL train them to honor authority and live responsibly.

I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.

I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.

I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.

I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.

I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.

I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will.

I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

This resolution comes from the 2011 movie Courageous, which I strongly recommend seeing.

All of us, men and women, will be held accountable, for even if we can’t, God can. Even if we feel too humble and insignificant, God does His greatest work with humble things and humble people. For us, it is simply to say that we have an adaptability that God can use. This should inspire in us an “awe-ability” that joyfully acknowledges God’s often secretive and hidden power. If that be the case, then, knowing our accountability, it simply remains for us to say, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me!”