HOMILY WEEK 15 01 – YEAR II
What God Really Wants, and Does Not Want, of Us:
Optional Memorial of St. Henry
(Is 1:10-17; Ps 50; Mt 10:34-11:1)
At one point during his agony in the garden, Jesus utters a prayer that rings true for us in the light of today’s readings: “Father, not my will, but thy will be done.”
What God wants of us is not more prayers said out of dutiful faith, but more faith lived out in compassionate charity.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah chastises Israel for their superficial faith, sin, religious externalism and injustice. That is what God does not want or expect of them. Instead, what God really desires is for them to repent, undergo a sincere, profound change of heart, to let go of sin and any evil-doing. Then they are to learn to do good, and work for justice especially for the three most vulnerable groups without a voice in that society – to “rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”
In the Gospel, Jesus, the one who alone perfectly carried out the Father’s will regardless of the cost to him, uses the language of paradox to teach a similar, even broader message. The first thing Jesus mentions is that his presence in people’s lives may bring division. It is not the he brings or causes that division. Rather, when people start to take him seriously, division will happen when others resist his teaching.
The word “devil” comes from the Greek word “diablos” which means “division.” So, whenever there is a divisive force in families, communities, workplaces, even our churches, there is actually a diabolical force at work, always trying to divide people from one another, and willing to use the teachings of Jesus as an excuse for that division. True unity will come when the world is united in following Jesus.
Then Jesus boldly asserts that he must be the one and only priority in our lives – that nothing else is more important than believing in him, loving him, following him and doing his will. That is what he really wants and desires the most. All else pales in comparison. Division happens when people reject or resist this teaching. But blessed are those who believe and follow – theirs will be peace and joy even in the midst of suffering and persecution, for they are living the Beatitudes.
What follows next is the invitation to take up our cross and follow Jesus. A cross will be any inconvenience or suffering that comes our way in life – perhaps dealing with mental illness in a family member, caring for an aging parent, the frustration of addiction in a friend or family member, having to deal with a controlling boss, being misunderstood by others, etc.
What is key here is that, as with all those in love, love of Jesus makes bearing that cross easier and even a blessing. What is key is accepting some inconvenience and suffering in our lives without bitterness or resentment, as Jesus did. There was only patience, forgiveness and total non-violence in him during his passion. This is called Radical Discipleship and Redemptive Suffering, connecting our suffering to that of Jesus and giving it deep meaning and purpose.
This is a mystery our world does not understand, as it tries to avoid suffering at all costs, even to the point of physician-assisted suicide, and an epidemic of addictions as people struggle to medicate the pain they fail to see as having any meaning or purpose in their lives. This positive attitude to the inevitable pain and suffering in our lives is a gift we can and must offer to our struggling society.
Finally, we are to express our faith through compassionate acts of charity, seeing Jesus in especially the little ones of this world. This connects with the teachings of Isaiah in the first reading – what God wants is for us to, in our day, reach out to the poor, the marginalized, the excluded ones, the immigrants, the homeless, the addicted, those without a voice. As St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta so succinctly put it, “What we would like to do to Jesus, whom we cannot see, let us do for the person next to us, whom we can see, and we will be doing it to Jesus.”
At the Star of the North Retreat Centre, where I serve as chaplain and spiritual director, I believe we are living out these teachings of Jesus as we strive to live out the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod, who consistently reached out to the poor of his day and whose dying words were, “Among yourselves, charity, charity, charity, and for others, zeal for their souls.”
The shape that takes for us is especially men’s and women’s wellness retreats for the disadvantaged, Breaking New Ground Together sessions to facilitate healing and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples as a follow-up to the Calls To Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Twilight Retreats and hospitality for those struggling with addictions in their lives or families, and many other such programs now also being offered virtually on-line.
Today the church invites us to honor St. Henry II, who lived from 972 to 1024. Descended on both sides from Charlemagne, he was the son of Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and Gisela of Burgundy. In 995, he succeeded his father as duke and in 1002 was chosen to succeed his cousin Otto III as Holy Roman Emperor. The education he received from St. Wolfgang of Regensburg kindled in Henry a lifelong interest in ecclesiastical affairs, which merged with his secular power. He created the See of Bamberg in 1006, built its cathedral, and supported the reforms initiated by the monks at the great monastery of Cluny in France. Known as Henry the Good, he was renowned as a just and clement ruler, a man of prayer and a humble ascetic. He was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III and is a patron of Benedictine oblates, childless couples, dukes, kings and the physically challenged.
The Eucharist is a powerful experience of God’s unconditional love for us through Word and Sacrament, offering us forgiveness and healing. May our celebration empower us to live out our faith through compassionate acts of love and charity, thus doing in our lives what our God is really asking of us.