It is common for a teacher to try to use an familiar example to help students grasp and understand a complex topic. The prophet Jeremiah uses such images quite often when trying to get the people to convert. Today’s image is quite strange, but the point is clear. If we allow ourselves to be away from God, when God has done so many things for us, we will rot. The good news is indeed the gospel. Just a little bit of God’s grace is enough to help us to experience grace and life.
There is a tremendous responsibility given to any leader. Leadership is not simply the case of giving orders. It is far more important than that. It is about providing the example that inspire others to follow. And, when a leader fails, it is about having the courage to admit wrongdoing, and doing something so that words do not ring hollow, but represent a desire to make up for sin. Fridays are traditionally days when penance is done, so today is a good day to do what it takes to repent.
Homily given at Saint Dominic’s Priory, Saint Louis, Missouri, on July 27, 2018
Photo courtesy Pixabay.
Will you be true? Will you be genuine and sincere? Even if you fail, will you seek the conversion that has no guile? Will you be who you say you are? There are two examples of authenticity in today’s readings. The first is a long life of authenticity, that of Eleazar. Even when given a shortcut, Eleazar remains true. He makes this authentic choice not merely for his own relationship with God, but also with concern for others. What will people make of an old faithful man who appears to turn away from God?
Zaccheus, the man of conversion in the gospel, shows us how authentic a search for God can be even from a sinful life. Zaccheus, in his own conversion, shows us how to convert. We must acknowledge honestly our sinfulness. When we do so, we have this powerful relationship with Jesus. Jesus comes into our hearts because we invite him to forgive our sins and to change our lives.
It can feel at times like God has rejected us. Such is the question in today’s first reading. The recent events of our lives, those violent acts that have made the news can cause the feeling of rejection. But how often are the evils in our world the result of human sin?
To be sure, in some way, all evil is the result of the fall from grace. All evil arises from sin, for God is only goodness. What humans need always to recall is the constant need for forgiveness and conversion. Every sin we commit contributes to the proliferation of evil in our world. So ask God for the grace of conversion.
Sometimes I get a little smug in my faith. I think that I am pretty good. I feel proud of myself. And as I read today’s gospel, it is just at those moments that I should worry. Because I might very well find Jesus saying to me that the less likely in my eyes are going to be saved before I am. The very people I look down upon, they might be the ones who have really heard the word of God. They might be the ones who have accepted Jesus.
It is so easy to put others down. It is so easy to dismiss those who do not seem to be much in the eyes of the world. Sinners. It is easy to dismiss sinners by convincing myself that I am not a sinner. I am not like one of ‘those people’. But Jesus has a stark message for me when that happens. ‘Those people” might be the very ones who truly hear what he has to say. And if I do not humble myself before Jesus, I might be like those locked out of the wedding feast.
I read a post from Sherry Weddell about Saint Jerome that underscored how conversion is a process. Saint Jerome was quite a complex person. He lived a wild life as a youth, became a Catholic, but did not really convert, according to Weddell’s post, until later. In fact, it was the bible that played an important part. “Ignorance of scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
It causes me to think about how well I know Jesus. And it causes me to ask if I have really allowed Jesus to change my heart. Or, is it the case that all too often I simply go through the motions. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the story of Saint Jerome. Becuase it is clearly the case I can know Jesus better each day.
What are you known for? Virtue? Vice? Whatever we do results in a reputation. Our reputation can be accurate, but also not. We can be known for good or evil. We can be trustworthy, or untrustworthy. But once we have a reputation, it can be hard to shake.
Such can be the way we think of Saint Thomas. In the gospel, he seems to doubt. But his life is one of belief. Belief until death. Rather than a person of doubt, Thomas is like all who respond to God’s grace. Grace changes us. We are never stuck in our sin because God’s love is greater than all.
These two very important saints, Peter and Paul, are two wonderful stories of grace. It was the working of the grace of God that made it possible for these saints to become so holy. Peter is the clumsy leader with a big heart. He is on the one hand, very eager to serve Jesus, but often gets in his own way. Even though he betrays Jesus, he loves Jesus. He is able to accept forgiveness, and his enthusiasm and love of God does great things.
Paul is a story of grace too. He goes from persecuting Christ to following him. His eloquent speech, and his zeal for the faith are well known, since he wrote so much about his work. Both saints remind us that God’s grace does great things. Both saints were great leaders. Ask them to pray for continued great leadership in the Church.
Yesterday we focused on the love that God has for us. But why is it that we do not always feel loved? Sin. Today we celebrate the birth of Saint John the Baptist. He became quite “popular” by what he said in the desert. People were attracted to his message, and they came out in droves to hear it. Why? It was a challenging message. It demanded that to be whole, complete, and entire in our relationship with God, that we needed to change. To repent. To stop sinning. Why is it then, that this appealed to so many?
Isn’t it because people know, deep within themselves, that they need to change, to repent? Isn’t there something that we know deep within us about our relationship with God? We do not always admit it. We do not always act on it. Sometimes we run from it. But, deep down we know it. We are not always at our best, often deliberately so. To make a heart ready for Jesus, it needs to be tilled like soil. And Saint John the Baptist shows us how. Repent and believe n the Good News.