October 14, 2006

Going Away Sad

This weekend I give my first Sunday homily. Here are the readings, and here's what I came up with:

Thank you again for the welcome into your parish that everyone has so graciously offered me in these past few weeks. Your hospitality gives glory to God.

Both today and last Sunday we hear Gospels about receiving the Kingdom of God, and who may receive it.

Recall the ending of last week’s Gospel: Jesus embraces the little children, blesses them, and tells his astonished disciples that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who accept it like a child. Today we have a harder lesson: an eager and devout man goes away from Jesus disappointed, unable to follow the Lord into the Kingdom because he is weighed down by his many possessions.

Behold the great reversal we are witnessing! The kingdom of God belongs to the little children who are nobodies in this world, and it is denied to the man whose many possessions were tangible evidence of God’s blessing!

For us, may not be rich, or have many possessions by the standards of our society, but we are rich in the overwhelming number of activities we engage in, with the many commitments we have to fulfill on a daily basis. And these too can make it hard for us to follow the Lord into his Kingdom. And habits are even harder to let go of than material possessions. And our minds are always running too; multi-tasking by thinking about three or four jobs at once – and this can make it hard for us to hear the Word of God, spoken by the Father in Silence.

But here’s the good news in today’s Gospel. The Lord says, “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and the for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age… and eternal life in the age to come.” Now don’t be distracted by the examples that Jesus uses! Not many of us will perhaps be called upon to give up lands or houses or family members for the sake of the Kingdom. The things we will be called upon to let go of will be smaller and less glamorous, and in that sense more difficult.

The point is that what we receive from God is totally out of proportion with the effort we put into our spiritual and religious lives. For every little step we take toward God, He takes a hundred steps toward us! In Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks about how the sacrifice of Christ reverses the original sin of our first parents. But he also says that “the gift is not like the trespass.” What God gives us in Christ not only forgives the sin of the world but goes so much further. So we ought to be encouraged in going to God like the man in the Gospel and asking what more we can do. What we will receive in return will be outrageously and unfairly to our benefit.

If we are brave enough, like this man, to ask God what more we can do for him, we might be asked to let go of some of our busy-ness of our lives. Or maybe we’ll be asked to give up some of the racket of our radios and televisions and cell phones to make more room for prayer and contemplation.

Even worse, if we seek what more we can do for the Lord, we might be nudged by the Holy Spirit to let go of a pet peeve, or a precious grudge, or even a prejudice that we hold dear. The great 13th century Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure, said that the hardest thing for someone to let go of is “the money-bag of his own opinions.” Making even slight modifications in our patterns of thinking can be the hardest kind of asceticism there is!

If we go to Jesus with a quiet heart and an open mind, we can be assured that we will hear something from the Spirit of God. It might be a call to change our thinking, reform our lives, or a deepening of the devotion or prayer we already enjoy. And when the Lord lets us know what more we can do, one of two things can happen. We might immediately find the willingness to answer the call we receive. Like the apostles who immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus, we may be able to follow the call we receive without hesitation or reservation. If this happens, well, thanks be to God! Our willingness and devotion to the will of God gives glory to Jesus Christ, and what else is our Christian life about?

On the other hand, things may not work out so well. When God invites us to deepen our life of prayer or discipleship we often hesitate. We may not feel able to fulfill God’s will completely or right away, or we might not even have the graced willingness to try at all. When this happens we are truly like the man in the Gospel whose face fell at Jesus’ words and who went away sad.

But we shouldn’t go away sad, for there is good news in this too! Pay careful attention to the interaction between Jesus and the man. As soon as Jesus sees the good will of the man, as soon as Jesus sees his long devotion to the commandments and his desire to do more for God, Jesus, “looking at him, loved him.” That the man was unable to respond to Jesus’ invitation doesn’t change this. Jesus loved him just for asking, Jesus loved him for simply expressing the deepest desire of his heart, of what more he could do for God.

So let’s seek this week what more we can do for God. And let’s pray for the willingness to respond to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit that we receive. But let’s also remember the good news that even with our discipleship weighed down by the many things we have to worry about every day, and even with our prayer life made poor by our racing and distracted minds, Jesus gazes upon us with love just for wanting to serve Him, just for asking what more we can do for God.


Barb, sfo said...

There's a lot of food for thought here! Thank you for posting it on your blog so those of us "far away" can benefit as well.

I liked the Bonaventure quote in particular--that is something for me to work on.

How did the homily go?

Jason said...

Last Sunday's readings were pretty awesome (of course, it is the Word of God!). Unfortunately, the homily I heard focused more on why we should give to Catholic Services Appeal. But I've been wanting to meditate more on those readings because they all seemed to fit together so well.