23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 9, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

As you probably know at its founding America
was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of
new opportunities and freedom.
They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them
—both because of their foreign habits and accents,
and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.
So many times they had to fend for themselves
—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,
and schools for their children.
And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.
Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,
and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,
founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,
by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.
Mr. Giovanni ran a tab for Mrs. Romano at the grocery store
—he knew she’d pay when she could.
And Mrs. O’Hara let the whole Callaghan family move into her house
when Mr. Callaghan died in a mining accident.

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity
has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,
but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.
As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,
we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions
to the problems of healthcare and poverty,
programs like
Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,
they also became very supportive, financially,
of great Catholic charitable institutions
—building a huge system of first class Catholic
hospitals, schools and universities,
and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities,
and Catholic Relief Services.

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics
—it is a great expression of the honest and deep rooted Christian desire
to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,
who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We can be proud of ourselves.

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,
and even a loss of true charity.
First is the danger of taking charity, an act of love,
and turning it over to bureaucrats.
I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard
in government sponsored social welfare programs.
But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way to much bureaucracy,
which not only inhibits their effectiveness,
but can often also transform charity from an act of love
into an act of cold administration.
One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:
by directly supporting Catholic organizations,
like the Little Sister of the Poor, or the Missionaries of Charity,
who work with minimal administrative hassle,
and with the loving touch of Christ himself.

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that really concerns me.
Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,
or giving a check to the good sisters,
giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:
“Jesus went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”…”Be opened!”
Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?
He’s\ God—he doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:
remember the words of the Roman centurion,
who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,
in words now quoted 100s of 1000s of times every day:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”
Why does Jesus go to the man?
And why does Jesus touch the man, why does he speak to a deaf man?
He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, he just has to will it.
Why does he do all this?

There are two basic reasons.
The first is to give us an example of love,
Christ has the power to heal from far away, but he chooses to go to the deaf man
to show that he, Jesus, personally loves that man.

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:
we also don’t have to go to people to help them,
we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,
money that seems to perform miracles for people
—people far away, that we never actually see in person.
Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where
that money in a way translates into human love,
by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.
But in the end, does it communicate your love?
In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person
—its necessary for you also!
God created you to give yourself, not to give a check.
You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,
you can never be like Jesus Christ,
if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

The other reason Jesus healed the sick in person was,
to show that he was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,
and that he had the power of God himself.
As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:
“Here is your God,…
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what he wanted.
It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the deaf man
who can’t even hear him:
“Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
By performing this miracle of love,
the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends
would now be open to hear him,
and believe his words.

One of the problems with sending money
and letting other people do our charitable work
it that it can totally remove Christ and his power from the picture.
This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,
especially with government social programs.
A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”
much less explain that the love of Christ
is the reason they’re doing their job.
And even some so-called Catholic charitable organization’s
have the same problem:
it wasn’t so long ago that one of the largest Catholic organizations
was giving funds to abortion providers.
I’d say they’d managed to take Christ out of charity with that.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,
and we, individually, are the members of the Body.
You are his hands, you are his fingers.
He sends you out to show not only your love, but also his love, and his power.
He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,
who couldn’t help but tell everyone about his power.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to
volunteer to work full-time with some charity
–although that’s not a bad idea.
But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in
your life, you must do so.
Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,
every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

Sometimes this is in small things:
maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,
so you stop to tell them a joke.
Sometimes its’ in larger matters:
maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,
so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;
or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,
and you let his family live in the basement apartment
your parents used to live in.

Now, not everyone who comes to us asking for help is sent by God.
Unfortunately, there are some very bad people out there
who simply try to take advantage of us,
and are not as need as they pretend.
So as St. Paul reminds us,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
And as Jesus tells us:
“be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So you have to discern, maybe give yourself some objective rules to help your mind guide your heart.
Still, be willing and when it’s possible be ready
to show Christ’s love by your generosity.

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,
especially in America.
I hope that you will continue that great tradition by continuing
to give to the great Catholic charitable institutions.
But I also exhort you not to settle for that
—to remember that the power of the check book
cannot communicate your love,
and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.
Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”
And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ.