FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 21, 2019:
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things...Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." This familiar line from Luke’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed has always bothered me a bit. It bothers me because in the minds of so many scholars and others over the centuries, this moment has become the defining moment in the life of St. Martha.
You see, I have a bit of a soft spot for St. Martha. I think it comes from being a well-named Thomas. Being a “Thomas” has always made me sensitive to the unfair treatment that Thomas the Apostle gets. For all eternity, Thomas has been defined by one single moment in his life and has since been known as Doubting Thomas. But, as I have mentioned before, he should really be called Faithful Thomas. His so-called doubt comes from the fact that he questions his fellow Apostles, not Jesus. If Jesus had truly appeared to them, then why are they still fearful, locked into the upper room? If Jesus had really appeared, why hadn’t they done what He asked? If Thomas doubted, he doubted them. But, once Jesus appears to Thomas, he utters one of the most beautiful statements of faith in all of Scripture: “My Lord and my God!” And tradition tells us that He took up the charge that Jesus gave him with such great fervor that he would travel as far as India to spread the Good News and eventually die a martyr’s death. This is Thomas the Faithful!
The same kind of thing happens in the life of Martha. Today’s brief passage gives us two seemingly opposed positions – Martha who is busy serving, and Mary who sits at the feat of Jesus and listens. We come away from this passage feeling as though Mary is right, and Martha is wrong; that Mary is holy, and Martha is worldly. Sadly, this has often been the defining moment of this Martha’s life too. Martha is a worrier, consumed with accomplishing tasks, not attuned to spiritual things like her sister.
Of course, the point that Jesus is making is how important it is for us to step aside from the busyness of our lives to just sit and listen to the Lord; to consciously take that time to be in God’s presence so that God can speak His word in the depths of our hearts, so that He can remind us of how precious we are in His sight. Martha of course, knows this too. In fact, just as we know doubting was not the end of the story for Thomas, and he would have his own redeeming moment and proclamation of faith, the same is true for Martha. When her brother Lazarus died, she welcomed Jesus who had come to mourn with her and Mary at the loss of their brother, and His friend. And, in that heavy moment of grief, sadness, perhaps even questioning how this happened, Martha, like Thomas, makes a great proclamation of faith. She says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ. The One who has come into the world.” Again, one of the greatest proclamations of faith in the Bible.
For us, the Bible is really two stories. First it is God’s story – the story that tells us who God is, how He works, the depths to which He loves us. But, it is also our story – it tells us who we are, what we can be like, and how we can grow in holiness and closeness to our God. And it often tells us all of this through the lives and experiences of people in the Bible; people we can connect with. And this is why I love Martha, and Thomas, so much. They are like us. We connect with these two saints because we can see something of ourselves in them. Like Thomas, we can sometimes be filled with doubt and uncertainty. And like Martha, we can sometimes spend more time doing the things that keep us busy, rather than slowing down and taking the time to gather our resources, renew our spirits, rest our bodies, and commune with our God. And like them both, perhaps we’ve experienced moments in our life when others want to define us by a single mistake, or a single moment.
But, if we can be like Martha and Thomas in their less-than-perfect moments, then perhaps we can be like them too in their moments of great faith. Thomas and Martha are two very normal, human people. They are both full of all of the same emotions, reactions, and weakness that we all struggle with from time to time. And yet, they also possess the potential for tremendous holiness and grace. They have within them the ability to overcome those moments and allow God’s grace and holiness to shine through their lives in profound ways. And, my friends, the same is true for you and for me. No single moment, no failure, no sin, can ever define our lives or who we are because we are defined by God’s grace and its power to overcome anything in our lives. We are defined by our call to holiness.
What changed everything for both Martha and Thomas; what helped them overcome their normal human weakness, was an encounter with Jesus. In His presence, in His eyes, they gained a strength that brought out incredible holiness for all the world to see. Today, let the same be true for you and me. Today, we encounter our living God in His holy Word proclaimed. Today, before our very eyes, mere bread and wine will be transformed into His True and Abiding Presence in our midst. As we once again receive that Sacred Presence in the Eucharist, let our encounter with Jesus strengthen us, change us, transform us into the holiness that God calls forth from all those who follow Him. As we go forth from this place, let us say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Let us say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the One who has come into the world.”
Let us, like them, live the saintly lives we have all been called to.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 14, 2019:
If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
We know we live in difficult times. We’re flooded with images that haunt us – people displaced by the destruction of natural disasters, images of adults and children in cages, the scourge of the opioid epidemic, the endless numbers of mass shootings throughout our country (there have been more than 250 this year already). With the constant barrage of bad news that fills the newspapers and airwaves, we can begin to believe that violence, death and killing are out of control in our midst. We live in an extraordinary time of terror, of violence, of division and polarization and fear. And to all of that our God says to us over and over again – in fact more than 300 times in the Bible – “Do not be afraid.” Love conquers all.
And this is why we daily turn back to God and His Holy Word for our guidance, our inspiration, and our hope. As always, our Scriptures today once again remind us of what God wants of us in the midst of so much anger. He wants us to remember that we are not at odds, we are not in conflict, but that we are all neighbors – even if, and especially if, we thought we were divided.
Jesus proclaim again to us today the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nearly every religion and culture in the world has a Golden Rule in one form or another. In Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”
When we look at the situation of our world and wonder what we can do, the answer lies in not adding our voice to the chorus of negativity in the world. Our response needs to be one of tenderness, kindness and compassion. Robert Kennedy, who also knew very violent times, said, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Or more simply, won’t you be my neighbor?
Jesus proclamation of the Golden Rule insists that all humanity is really one big neighborhood – we are all connected. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as an enemy by the people of Jesus’ time for no other reason than he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception – even the person you thought was your enemy.
In our own world today we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the person who is different than us; even the person we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world.
The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the walls we have erected between those who belong to us and those who don't belong to us. The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.
As we gather today, we come to church for some comfort, we come to church for a measure of peace, we come to church to hear what word God has to speak to us. But, we also come to church to be sent back out. “Go and proclaim the Gospel,” “Go and glorify God by your life.” We come to be healed, strengthened, renewed and sent once again to be that peaceful presence in our world. Jesus, today, sends us to “go and do likewise” and to be neighbors to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 7, 2019:
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” When we hear this quote, we are usually quick to interpret in light of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. That makes a lot of sense to us. After all, we know that fewer men and women are pursuing these ways of life in our times, and so the natural temptation is to preach today about the need for more men and women to be dedicated in service to God, humanity and the Church. And, this would be a valid way to understand this passage. We do need a renewed desire for people to pursue the ordained and consecrated life.
But, when Jesus said these words, of course, we did not have the structures of ordained and consecrated life as we do today. There were no Dominican Sisters of Hope, Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits or Franciscans when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples. So, who are these words directed to? And, of course, these words are directed to all of us – certainly to priests and religious – but the call to be “sent out” for the harvest, is the call Jesus gives to every single believer; every last one of us.
It reminds me of the old Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism used illustrations to make a point about vocations. On one page there were two men side-by-side, one was dressed in an ordinary business suit, the other was a priest. The caption under the business man read, “This is good.” And under the priest, “But, this is better.” The next page had a woman in a dress with children at her side, and next to her was a religious sister, a nun. The captions again, under the Mom, “This is good,” and under the nun, “But, this is better.” I don’t think this is quite how Jesus would explain vocations. One is certainly not better than the other. The caption should have read, “These are both good, but they are different ways of serving God and the Church. Which one is God calling you to?” The danger of focusing only on the ordained and consecrated as those “called to the harvest” is that it let’s the rest of us off the hook. They’ll bring in the harvest, I don’t need to worry about that.
Jesus, then and now, intends to call each and every last one of us who believe in Him and in His message to be the laborers who spread His message around the world; no matter what it is that we do in life. What Jesus means when tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” is that the world is full of people in need. Whether it is people in the third world or the homeless and drug addicted on our city streets, or even members of our own families – people are looking for help; looking for connection; looking for compassion; looking for God. The problem is that there are too few people willing to offer those things. All we have to do is turn on the TV to see how people respond to the need all around them. They too often respond with anger, with accusations, we prejudice, or the worst of all, with complete indifference. Never before has there been such a need for compassionate people – people like you and me – to step forward and help Jesus with the harvest.
A few years ago, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage where St. Thomas the Apostle places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. Reflecting on that, the Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”
My friends, our Gospel today reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all – whether we are priests, deacons, religious, popes or any of the myriad of beautiful, wonderful Baptized members of the Body of Christ – we are all called; we all have that vocation to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. We all share the call the be the laborers in the field who bring in God’s harvest of goodness, holiness, and compassion. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed for the better by it; because we will be changed to be more like Christ.
The Lord once again sends each of us today to proclaim the Kingdom of God; to live the Kingdom of God; to be the very Kingdom of God in the midst of our world; to encounter Christ through His wounds. It is the call – it is the vocation – of us all.
May the Lord give you peace.