Almost 9,000 attendees arrived in Saint Louis for this year’s National Catholic Education Association Convention. While it had been a few years since I had attended an NCEA Convention, this one did not disappoint. Every NCEA I have been to has reminded me of the size of the Catholic School mission in the United States. It has always been exciting to me to pray, socialize and learn with so many educators committed to a similar Catholic mission.
How do friars of the Order of Preachers — an Order founded around study, preaching, prayer and community — best commemorate eight-hundred years of their intellectual and spiritual tradition? Fr. Jay Harrington, OP, Regent of Studies for the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great and Associate Academic Dean at Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis, MO), invites the modern reader to glimpse into the lineage and tradition of the Dominicans through various lenses in his compilation, Christian Faith and the Power of Thinking: A Collection of Essays, Marking the 800th Anniversary of the Founding of the Order of Preachers in 1216.
In addition to his own chapter on the 13th-century Dominican, Augustine of Dacia, OP, Fr. Harrington includes the essays of Dominican friars from the Provinces of St. Albert the Great and St. Martin de Porres: Fr. Charles Dahm, OP; Fr. James Marchionda, OP; Fr. Thomas O’Meara, OP; the late Fr. Paul Philibert, OP; Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, OP; Fr. Benedict Thomas Viviano, OP; Fr. Mark Wedig, OP; and Fr. Richard Woods, OP. The authors treat their subjects with expertise, the fruits of the labor resulting from extensive intellectual work and practical ministerial application, and definitively within the charism of the Dominican Order.
Priorities. Living a good life means choosing the right priorities. What is important to you? What activities matter to you? What people matter to you? What choices do you make about how you live your life? What choices do you make about which people get your time, your care, your concern? Today’s gospel especially focusses on priorities and making those choices that matter for ultimate and eternal happiness.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This line of the gospel makes it clear. If your vocation is married life, then you seek the Kingdom of God in a way that makes you the best father, the best husband, the best mother, the best wife. You make decisions based upon bringing yourself and those around you to Jesus. You recognize that nothing is more important than living your life for Christ.
This is really what life is all about. Yet, how often do we seek other things? How often do we seek Netflix, or social media, or games? How often do we first seek job and career success, money, success and wealth? How often do we seek to satisfy sexual desires, not as intended by God, but in pornography? How often do we seek security for our family by working so hard we never see them? How often is our quest first our smart phone, and not the people we find ourselves with?
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. As we stand on the cusp of Lent, this is a good time to think about priorities. This is a good time to consider exactly what is important. This is the time when we ask ourselves if we are seeking God and his kingdom first, which causes us to value all of the right people and goals, or whether we allow ourselves to seek something far less.
Unbelief. In the midst of everything that happens in today’s world, it can be difficult to believe. First, there are the things that have always been difficult for people of faith. Such things as an innocent child who gets sick and dies. Or an inexplicable car accident or other type of accident which takes someone’s life to early. Perhaps there are those instances where a relationship fails, and we seek answers. Maybe the difficulty is simply that we cannot seem to believe in what we cannot see, or experience, or touch. There can be many challenges to belief.
That is true even for people who do believe. Such is what we witnessed in today’s gospel. A man brings his son in faith for a cure. But the disciples are incapable. The disciples simply cannot bring about a cure for this man’s son. And the scene seems more than a little chaotic. Not only is there the inability of the disciples for a cure, we hear that there are scribes arguing with a large crowd and the disciples. One can only imagine the depth of this argument in confronting something that is evil.
For anyone who has been involved in pastoral ministry, in trying to console those who grieve, it becomes clear that there is nothing more difficult, or at least few things more difficult, the parent who has a sick child, or a child who dies. It is in this vein that Jesus reminds us in the gospel that faith makes anything possible. But here’s the interesting line: I do believe, help my unbelief! In the midst of a difficult life even for people of faith, there is the recognition of the need for a closer relationship to God. Let us pray that God strengthens our faith as well.
Faith. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It’s interesting that in today’s definition of faith, we have this understanding that faith is both something that has happened with evidence that has not been seen. We have hope, and faith means we have realized this hope, this thing that was hoped for. The evidence, involves things we’ve not yet seen. In our secular world, these conceived to be completely contradictory things. Hoping for what we cannot see.
Because it is so difficult, it is for that reason I think that the author of the letter to the Hebrews makes it a point to stress this faith. And the ways in which this faith has been so readily apparent in the lives of people who have gone before us. How many times does the author of the letter to the Hebrews begin sentences with the phrase by faith? By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than canes. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death by faith Noah who we heard about just this week warned about what yet was not seen built an ark. And these are just three examples.
It is by faith that Jesus has the experience of the transfiguration. It is by faith that the apostles can set out to proclaim this good news even in the midst of the persecution that was no different than that of Jesus. And it is by faith that we too can come to know Jesus and he profound and powerful way. Do you believe?
Awesome. Think of Noah for a moment. Can you imagine the excitement of seeing dry land? Being surrounded by water for so long, and finally seeing the familiarity of dryland. Wow! The promise was true. God is faithful. God did not give up on the people who had sinned.
But what is interesting is what Noah does. When he first encounters the dry land he doesn’t run around to get all excited. He doesn’t immediately move onto whatever new life he is now going to be able to experience because there is no more flood. He does not start to rebuild. No. Noah gives thanks to God. And this is the sign of hope. In spite of all of the wickedness and all of the evil, that has been present on the earth, there’s hope because of Noah’s faith. Noah has seen what God can do, is faithful to the promise, and God does marvelous things.
If Noah gets excited about his ability to see dryland after seeing water for so long, imagine the blind man in today’s gospel. He can see. Not just dry land where he used to see water. No, he can see light where he once saw darkness. This is not a story simply about a man who recovers physical sight. This is a man who recovers the sight of faith. He can see. In both the first reading and in the gospel people are able to see not just physical things but much more importantly there able to see God. Pray that God will open your eyes so that you may see.
When our lives are filled with challenges, it can be the case that we focus on the tiny, petty things in our lives. We see sometimes in homes for senior citizens the focus on what appears to be small when people lose control over aspects of their lives. We see when world views are challenged there can be a tendency to focus on absolute ideas. We see politically that when the world is chaotic, people seek leaders with strong and bold statements.
In today’s gospel, there is something similar going on. Jesus and the Pharisees are in different places. Jesus is challenging the world view of the Pharisees. Some think that Jesus may have been a Pharisee. Nonetheless, he is seeking to remind Pharisees that the purpose of the law, rules, rituals, and traditions is to help people to become closer to God. They are not the most important goal, but rather the means to the most important goal.
We can do the same ourselves. It can be hard to love people we do not like. It can be easier to find all of the petty reasons why we do not need to do so than to address our need to grow in charity. In your day today, remember that the purpose of all religious practices is ultimately to lead us to a deeper relationship with God.
When science and religion are discussed today, they are often seen as polar opposites. From the snarky side that sometimes is science, it can be the case that religion is seen as unnecessary. Some expressions of religion believe the only purpose of science is to undermine religion. That is really odd, since so many scientific discoveries were made by people of faith.
Most know about the Big Bang Theory, but not many are aware that it was first proposed by a Jesuit priest, also a physicist, Fr. Georges Lamaitre, who called it the Cosmic Egg. Our understanding of genetics comes from an Augustinian Monk, Fr. Gregor Mendel. Copernicus was a man of faith. The Vatican has an academy of the sciences.
So it is not surprising that the first reading, which speaks of creation, and the gospel which speaks of meaning are together in Scripture. We believe, as Catholics, that both science and faith are about the quest and search for the truth. Both the study of the natural world and the quest for faith are important ways we learn about God and the world.
While science can tell us what happens, science is simply not equipped to tell us why something happened, or what it means, or what its purpose is. So the next time you hear someone say science and religion do not go together, remind them that both science and religion are meant to seek the truth, together.
To listen to today’s homily, click one of the links above.
“Your faith has saved you.” How often is it that we hear Jesus say this? I know that I am tempted to want flashy, powerful words and actions from Jesus. Yet, he so often does not give these words. He recognizes those who trust and believe in him. The woman in today’s gospel has suffered greatly. She has exhausted her resources. She has seen doctors and spent all she has. And rather than getting better, or even remaining as she is, she gets worse. But somehow she meets Jesus. She hears of him. Perhaps she has seen miracles. But she knows one thing. If she can touch the cloak of Jesus, she can be healed.
Jairus, the synagogue official has faith too. He knows that if Jesus would just come and pray over his daughter, things will be better. And in spite of those who claim his daughter is dead, Jesus goes to the girl. And what does he do? He takes her by the hand. He touches her.
In both instances, touching Jesus is the vehicle for healing. Faith is the mechanism for healing. Do we place ourselves in the presence of Jesus? Do we take the time to be in Jesus presence, in prayer, in church, in silence? Do we trust Jesus, do we have faith? Do we trust enough to hear Jesus say to us, “Your faith has saved you.”
Family. In some ways there is nothing so comforting and at the same time nothing so challenging as family. Our families love us. Our families care for us. But families can also bring conflict. Families can hurt. Families can be the source of misunderstanding. Certainly it is not difficult to see the challenges Jesus had in his family.
And there is an important message to us too. The primacy of his family is their faith in God. It is not simply because of a biological relationship. It is about faith. It is about trust. It is about what God does for us. We pray that we too might have such faith and trust.