Text: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 20, 2020
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The last few months have been a time of terrible stress for most Americans.
Of course, there’s the coronavirus,
and the complete upheaval that’s caused in our lives.
But then there’s also all the racial and political turmoil,
the riots, attacks on police and innocent people.
Then of course, there’s the election coming up,
building on the rancor of the impeachment just 8 months ago.
And of course, the continuing challenges to basic rights and liberties.
Then on top of that summer’s over:
we have all the frustrations of trying to go back to work and school.
Then each of us has our own personal crises to deal with …
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by it all.
And to be torn apart or dragged down by it all.
Considering that, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to escape this mess?
People try escapism all the time.
Drugs or alcohol.
Sex or other forms of distracting pleasure.
Sadly, some take the precious gift of life into their own hands,
and end it all in suicide.
But none of that is acceptable—
none of those are solutions to the problems,
but rather all of them are the terrible results of the problems:
just as death is not the cure for sickness.
Some say that even St. Paul suggests such escapism in second reading:
“I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
But of course Paul is not trying to escape anything:
he is trying to fulfill something.
Death is not Paul’s solution to the problems of life.
Rather, for Paul, Christ is the solution.
And it’s not death that Paul longs for, but life with Christ,
whether in this world or the next.
He says, “For to me life is Christ,”
Think of all the hardships Paul endured.
In his second letter to the Corinthians he lists some of them:
“Five times I received…40 lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with a stick,
once I was stoned,
three times I was shipwrecked,
and I drifted on the sea for a day and a night.”
And he goes on listing even more.
But with Christ, even with all these hardships,
he constantly speaks of his joy in living
because he lives with, in and for Jesus Christ.
In Christ, Life has meaning—even the sufferings of life.
Yes, Paul does say “for me …death is gain.”
But not as an embrace of suicide, or escaping,
but as an acknowledgement that all of us will die someday,
and when God calls us home in His time
then our joy in Christ will be complete in heaven.
If, that is, our life in this world is about Christ.
If everything we do is with and for Him, As St Paul says:
“If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.
Some say, but Father, what about all these problems?
What does Christ have to do with this?
And how can I trust Him to help me?
Some even say, how can there be a loving God, as Jesus says,
when all these things are going wrong in my life?
Sometimes it is hard to figure all this out.
But I think of my parents, and how, when I was a little child
they would make me do so many things I didn’t want to do,
and even punish me when I didn’t do them.
How they made me eat food I didn’t like, take medicine that tasted terrible,
go to school every single day,
and push myself to study and take on one challenge after another.
And I would complain, even cry and even fight back.
And they would just say, sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently,
“trust us, we know what’s best, this is for your own good.”
Looking back now I see how they had a plan,
and that plan involved a lot of hard work and sacrifice on my part
—and a lot of hard work and sacrifice on their part,
between dealing with my complaining,
helping me with homework and sports,
and working at jobs they didn’t like so they could afford
to keep the plan moving forward.
But they saw that plan in a way I couldn’t see it, from a different perspective.
Now I look back and see, wow, they were a lot smarter than I thought,
and they loved me a lot more than I knew.
God has a different perspective too, and so He says [in today’s first reading]:
“my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
Sometimes I would complain to my father that he wasn’t being fair.
Now I hear his answer to that echo in the words of Jesus today:
‘My friend, I am not cheating you
…am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”
In the midst of all the struggles of this current life, God sees what we don’t see.
He has a plan; a plan that involves hard work and sacrifice on our parts,
but also hard work and sacrifice on His part:
look at all the complaining and rejection he has to face every day;
look at the cross and tell me he doesn’t suffer for His plan for us!
And He is not unfair, but rather
everything belongs to Him, but He freely gives us so much of it.
And so the solution is not escape
—either through drugs, or sex, or suicide or whatever.
The solution is to live with Christ, and to accept His plan for us.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”
And the thing is it’s never too late to do this.
This is one of the things Jesus is saying in today’s gospels,
in the parable of the workers,
some beginning early and some beginning late.
It doesn’t matter when you begin to work with Him,
as long as you DO begin to work with Him.
Sometimes, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
As the Lord tells us through the prophet Isaiah:
“Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”
This is all hard to accept, even for those who truly try every day.
But in his merciful and generous plan, He doesn’t let us struggle on our own.
Every day He generously helps us along.
He helps us with this Word that shows us the way.
He helps us with His grace, especially in the sacraments,
that draw us close to Him and strengthen us
to cope, grow with and overcome adversity.
And He gives us encouragement every day, in large things and small.
I was thinking about that this week,
when I was feeling particular discouraged about something.
One of the ways He encourages us is through little miracles.
Today/yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St. Januarius.
We don’t know much about St. Januarius,
except that he was an Italian bishop martyr in the early 4th century.
But in God’s great and wonderful plan,
St. Januarius has become famous over the centuries.
You see, when Januarius died,
one of his followers collected some of the drops of his blood
and kept them as a relic.
Over years that blood has dried and of course become hardened,
and is kept in the cathedral of Naples.
But for centuries, every year, on 3 particular days of the year,
including September 19th,
that cold dried and dusty blood
miraculously turns to liquid again—and warm.
Scientists have studied it, and there is no explanation.
Except that it is a true miracle.
Now, this doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t feed the hungry or cure the sick.
But does remind the people of Naples—and us—that God can do anything,
and He is in charge, He has a plan, and He is here with us today.
And the thing is, He does miracles, large and small, every day for us.
Whether it’s someone miraculously recovering from an illness,
or when you pray for a friend you haven’t heard from in years
and suddenly they call to say “hello.”
Or an old Holy Card that falls from an old book
with just the right words you need to read.
Christ gives us these miracles to remind us that He lives with us,
and to call us, and encourage us, to live with Him.
Now we turn to the greatest miracle that comes to us every day: the Eucharist.
Today Isaiah tells us: seek the Lord where he may be found.”
And we seek Him and find Him in the Eucharist:
we find Him, His plan, His sacrifice, his grace, His encouragement,
his life and his death and his resurrection into eternal life.
As we now move more deeply into this great mystery, this great miracle,
let us turn our lives to Him.
Let us never again seek to escape from life, with all its fears and tears,
but, with the grace of Jesus,
let us embrace His life and His plan for our life.
Let us recognize that His ways are not our ways,
but that His way is the way to happiness in this life
and perfect glory in the life to come.
So that the words of St. Paul may become our own:
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.”