HOMILY, 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
Back on course
One of the toughest words in the English language for me to hear is “recalculating”. I’ve become as GPS-dependent as any driver out there, and at least half the time I use GPS I take a wrong turn or miss an exit at some point, and then comes the dreaded word: “recalculating” (in that robotic GPS voice…which becomes for me the voice of judgment!). To hear “recalculating” is to know that I’ve messed up, gone off-course, and that I’ve got to act as quickly as possible to get back on-course if I want to make it to my destination.
In our journey to God, which is really the journey of our whole lives, it can be remarkably easy to get off-course. It’s easy to get off-course, even though God is not only our final destination, but He also accompanies us! You’d think that would make it pretty hard to mess up, but I know I’ve found plenty of ways to do it.
First, we can get off-course in what we desire. One of the consequences of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve is that all of us inherit some disordered desire. We want things that appear attractive, but that won’t really be good for us. Just like the forbidden fruit attracted Adam and Eve, so each of us has desires that we need to work hard at ordering, so that our desire can remain focused on God and His plan for us.
Second, we can get off-course in what we think. There is a tendency in our society to think of my own opinion as the highest source of truth. I who barely passed high school Algebra (really) somehow delude myself into thinking I’ve got the world figured out, and nobody can tell me any better. I have a hard time accepting the authority of those God has placed over me, to teach me the truth He has given them to teach me.
Third, we can get off-course in what we do, the ways we speak and act. When I allow my disordered desires and thinking to drive my words and actions, the result isn’t pretty!
With the one exception of our Blessed Mother Mary, every person–as well as every society–goes off-course in one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent. And it’s essential to know that when we go off-course, God does not give up on us! He works very hard to help get us “recalculated” and back on-course.
In both today’s First Reading and Gospel, the Lord highlights for us the faithlessness of His Chosen People, Israel. Here you have a people that has been blessed beyond any other nation, and yet they turn away from the Lord over and over again. In the Gospel, we see that even the people who were in some ways closest to Jesus can’t quite put their faith in Him.
Yet while we certainly need to see how bad this kind of faithlessness is, I also want us to think about how easy it was for the Israelites to get off-course. Life as God’s Chosen People wasn’t always a cakewalk!
For one thing, we all know the expression that “familiarity breeds contempt.” To know God well is sometimes to take Him for granted. And with Jesus we have God not only getting close to us, but becoming one of us! It’s an incredibly beautiful and infinitely rich truth, but God’s running a risk here, too: the risk that we will forget that He is God, because He’s good enough to come to us as a man.
For another thing, to get close to God makes demands on us, and that’s tough. It means we have to think like God, speak like God, and act like God. It means that we embrace a new concept of freedom: freedom for excellence, the freedom to live according to God’s plan, to become saints. This is where our disordered desires creep in and compete for our attention. And this is where we can think we’ve “outsmarted” God, that we’ve got a better plan, or that the world offers a better plan for us. There are lots of arguments we can come up with when we’re feeling inclined to go our own way.
It’s easy to go off-course, but the coming of the Son of God into the world is the ultimate act of “recalculation”. In Jesus, we see the face of God. We see a man who in always and to the perfect degree thinks, speaks, and acts in godly ways because He is God. And Jesus does more than give us a good example. He taught, and suffered, and died, and rose again so that we might be able to share in His life–to think with His thoughts, speak His words, and to do what He does in the circumstances of our own lives. He has turned us away from our collision-course with death and destruction, and has set us on the course for heaven.
So in the most fundamental way we have nothing to fear, which is another point Jesus makes very clear for us. What He has done for us cannot be undone unless we choose to walk away, and even when we walk away we can get back on-course in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or confession.
And yet many Catholics are increasingly concerned that our world is going off-course in a dramatic way, setting us on a destructive path. Just a few examples are the racism and violence such as we’ve seen in South Carolina, the horrific persecution of Christians by ISIS, rampant atheism and indifference towards God, and very recently the decision of the Supreme Court to redefine marriage, as if it were in the Court’s purview to redefine something already defined by God Himself!
These are very different issues, but all of them share one quality: they each involve failures of faith and of human reason. They each involve a departure from the course God has set for us. And although they are very different, these issues also share one solution: God’s “recalculation”.
I want to make just a few practical points about what it means to speak of God’s “recalculation” today:
First, know that there is one. In other words, don’t give up! God is always working out His own purposes in our lives and in the world. There is always a “recalculation” He can work in us if we’ll let Him.
Second, we need to let Him. We cannot just go on the way we’re going. The world was not perfect in the 1950’s, and things will never be perfect until Jesus comes again in glory and sets everything right. But we can’t ignore the dramatic changes that have occurred in our society and the world over the past 60 years or so. So much–from entertainment to family life to religious practice–has changed in ways our grandparents or great-grandparents would never have imagined. Some good things have happened, certainly, and now is a great time to be a Catholic, but we can’t ignore that many things have changed for the worse.
Third, the course we need to get back onto is the course of Christian love, which is always self-sacrificial love for God and for every person. Love is the road we travel (remember Jesus says, “I am the way”); love is the fuel that drives us (St. Paul writes that “the love of Christ impels us”); and love is the destination towards which God directs us (St. John writes, “God is love” and “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”).
To love Jesus and our neighbor with this kind of love will cost us, and it’s looking more and more like it will cost us dearly, but it is the only path to heaven. God can do in us what we could never do by ourselves. The Eucharist does this in us, fills us with Christ’s love and draws us back on-course towards our true home. What we can never do is “turn off the GPS”, shut God out of our lives, think we know better than Him, do our own thing.
In the end, shutting God out is life’s one great tragedy. Life’s one great victory is to follow Christ with faith, hope, and love, to help others do the same, and to arrive at last at that place where we can never again be lost, but live securely in the hand of God forever.